Farage, Johnson and Cummings.

Peter Flanagan Brexit has failed, Boris has bolted and Sunak has been left with the mess

From London, Flanagan says Sunak’s government seems void of any real vision for the UK, while it’s still dealing with Johnson’s Brexit.

IN THE 2007 movie Wild Hogs, John Travolta leads a group of sad middle-aged men on a motorcycle trip across America. Think of it as a-coming-of age story for blokes about to be divorced by their wives.

Brexit was a bit like this. Presented with the opportunity to reclaim a long-lost virility, an ageing electorate duly pulled on leather pants and gave two fingers to their kids.

But Brexit has an Instagram versus reality problem. Boris Johnson’s patriotic thirst traps promised a bombastic return to a renewed global Britain, but all we’ve been left with is a rather expensive piece of national admin. Even the most diehard Europhobes like Nigel Farage have labelled it a failure. On each end of the political spectrum, no one is happy with how it’s all turned out.

Brexit blowback

Trade barriers are choking supply chains while restrictions on European workers are gumming up the labour market. Inflation has been coming down across Europe but the UK’s figures have remained stubbornly high.

Rising interest rates will hammer millions of British homeowners when they roll off their fixed-rate loans next year in what economists are calling a “mortgage time-bomb”.

Leaving the European Union is the only big idea that Britain has had in almost a decade but it’s proven completely unable to solve the real problems people face. Houses remain unaffordable, the health service is on its back, and the cost of living continues to spiral. Politicians have spent too much time arguing over how best to jilt Brussels and too little time considering how to grow the economy. Everyone is worse off as a result.

The conservatives without Johnson are like a cult without a prophet. Its members find themselves blinking helplessly at Rishi Sunak, wondering exactly what was in the Kool Aid they just knocked back. So far, he’s a lot less convincing than his former boss.

For the rest of us though, there’s something faintly reassuring about his earnest Head Boy persona. Sure, he’s a former investment banker and married to one of the world’s richest women. But while he’s from that world of immense privilege, there is a sense that he is not of that world. Born to two middle-class Indian immigrants, he’s a scholarship boy done good. Though Johnson and his pals viewed the government as an extension of their boarding room mess hall, Sunak gives the impression that he really wants to do well.

‘Good statecraft is boring’

It speaks to the low bar set by British politicians recently that a vague sense of sincerity is his most redeeming feature. For while his perceived competence will appeal to some, he’s unlikely to inspire Red Wall voters in the way Johnson’s boorish, class clown persona did.

Through hard work and personal credibility, Sunak got a better deal out of the Europeans than his predecessor did. But he’s gotten almost no credit for this because good statecraft is boring.

Brexit under Sunak is like a stag weekend organised by the lad who doesn’t drink. Instead of strippers firing rocket launchers at livestock, it’s a 7 am hike followed by a pasta-making class at lunchtime.

You can only leave the EU once. Without anything new to offer people going into the next election, it looks like they’ll just double down on migration panic. It was the secret sauce that helped to carry the Brexit referendum after all. But while Johnson’s Brexit was at least veiled by images of rejuvenated English spirit, Sunak’s pledge to “Stop the boats” is raw xenophobic sloganeering at its most artless.

It remains to be seen how far he’ll be willing to go to keep his promise to curb the numbers crossing the channel. The great irony is that the government minister responsible for some of the harshest rhetoric on immigration, Suella Braverman, is a practising Buddhist. Her unique blend of English nativism and Eastern mysticism could be just the ticket for a party trying to rediscover its message. I can almost see the billboards: “Loving kindness – for the English first”.

The British public will only swallow so much. Brexit has failed on its own terms and now polls show that a third of Leave voters support re-joining the single market.

Johnson promised them the jape of the century, only to resign midterm and leave everyone else to clean up his mess. In this version of Wild Hogs, the gang has gotten halfway down the superhighway only to realise that they’re out of gas, their pants have torn at the crotch, and their leader has thumbed a taxi home to the missus.

Peter Flanagan is an Irish comedian and writer. You can find him on Twitter @peterflanagan and Instagram @peterflanagancomedy.     


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