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Brits regret Brexit but rejoining the EU is unlikely

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Windsor, England, on February 27, 2023.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Windsor, England, on February 27, 2023. Copyright Dan Kitwood/WPA Rota
Copyright Dan Kitwood/WPA Rota
By Shona Murray
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Protests and demands for the UK to rejoin the EU are growing steadily in the UK, where most are saying Brexit has failed.

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Last Saturday around 20,000 people marched in London calling for political leaders to embark on yet another complex and highly contentious negotiating path with Brussels.

Around 62% of Britons believe Brexit is a failure according to British polling company YouGov.

The UK economy has been hit as a result of Brexit - in particular, prices rose by 25% from January 2021 until March of this year, as £6.95bn (€8 billion) was added to food costs - a consequence of the extra trade barriers from leaving the Single Market.

According to the report by the London School of Economics the impact has been felt most by the poorest in society who spend much more of their income on food.

In addition, researchers at the Centre for European Reform estimate that business investment was 23% lower than it would have been in 2020/21 due to Brexit.

Pro-EU activist Femi Oluwole says the draw Brexit once held is no more.

“We have Nigel Farage saying that Brexit has failed and it hasn't helped us economically at all.

"So the Brexiteers effectively have much abandoned, at least this version of Brexit. They keep coming out with things like 'Oh, we do Brexit differently'. But the public has kind of moved on from the idea that you can make Brexit work," he told Euronews. 

He added that the ‘sovereignty’ argument is no longer prevalent in the discussion and the reality of the cost of Brexit is starting to bite.

“The debates that we had six years, seven years ago about all that sovereignty stuff of Britain standing on its own and all that sort of stuff. It's just come face to face with the fact that there are more important things in life. Can you feed your kids right now?

“Half of low-income families in the UK are skipping meals to feed their kids. We cannot afford Brexit if we can't afford food, we can't afford Brexit."

A possible return to the EU?

If the UK were ever to chart the course in rejoining the EU, it would be a vastly different club to the one it left.

Major fundamental shifts to a closer, interdependent union have resulted from the crises Europe has faced.

It's hard to know what role or position the UK would have taken in each of these decisions had it stayed. Would it have blocked, watered down or supported the Rescue and Resilience Facility (RRF) borne out of the COVID pandemic’s destruction of certain economic sectors?

For the first time, the EU borrowed money on behalf of the member states and distributed it in the form of grants and loans. This would have gone against the UK’s strongly expressed disapproval of the term ‘ever-closer-Europe’.

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There has also been far stronger cooperation on security and defence, including the use of the Peace Facility to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. And a serious, purposeful discussion on enlargement is underway.

Georg Riekeles, who was diplomatic adviser to the former EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and is now executive director of the European Policy Centre says the EU has changed, and is on an even more monumental journey of change in the coming years. It would be impossible for the UK to continue when it left the EU in 2020.

“First and foremost, we’d be talking about an entirely new discussion. It will not be about the possibility of UK the rejoining on past terms.

“The EU is in an enlargement process now, not only about the Western Balkans, it's also about Ukraine, it's also about Moldova and potentially beyond.

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“And that is in itself a very big challenge to the to the EU. I think current institutional political economic structures in the EU are not ready for this enlargement.

"If the UK used to go ahead" it will be a different discussion about what "membership means, of participation to the single market, to the euro," Riekeles told Euronews.

The current Conservative government has adopted a more pragmatic approach to EU relations following several years of belligerent, anti-EU sentiment. The recent rejoining of the EU’s Horizon science and research programme as well as a long-awaited agreement on Northern Ireland through the Windsor Framework have set the two sides on better footing.

The main opposition Labour Party currently has a strong lead in the polls ahead of next year's general election but its leader Keir Starmer, a firm Remainer and once a committed Europhile, has ruled out a return to the EU.

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