Johnson’s Brexit deal: For richer or for poorer?

Yellow stars painted on a blue wall. A man with hammer and chisel is removing one of the stars.
Banksy does Brexit (detail). Image credit: dullhunk, licensed under CC BY 2.0

When the Brexit trade deal was finally announced on 24 December, it was left to Ursula von der Leyen to deliver the last rites on Britain’s relationship with the EU. The EU Commission president expressed her hope for continuing friendship and cooperation between the UK and the remaining 27 nations of the EU.

From Boris Johnson barely a word before he scuttled off in search of sprouts. Later on Christmas Eve, back in Downing Street, he suggested the 1,250-page Brexit deal document would make excellent reading after the Christmas pud. It’s hard to imagine how he could have been less gracious and diplomatic.

Commentators on Twitter were quick to spot the PM’s fish tie as he posed in Brussels. It suggested he had netted a ‘good deal’ on fisheries. But trade emerged as the big issue. Were border controls across Europe to contain Covid a foretaste of things to come? Maybe. But what is already clear is that the early promise of frictionless trade has been abandoned. 

Twitter memes mocked the DTI’s ‘prepare for 1 January’ notices and suggested the deal is a litany of broken promises. The government was accused of self-imposed trade sanctions, deception over fishing and future impoverishment.

The deal, in the words of actor Stephen Mangan, is “better than no deal. In the same way that having your face gnawed off by a rat is better than having your face gnawed off by two rats.”

Former Conservative minister Stephen Dorrell dismissed the PM’s brag that there were “no non-tariff barriers to trade” as “jaw dropping”, noting that the whole purpose of the deal was to erect barriers that didn’t exist until now.

Lawyer, journalist and filmmaker Peter Stefanovi summed up the deal: “It’s cost the country £200bn, robbed British citizens of free movement, stripped our youth of the enrichment of Erasmus & made everyone but your millionaire chums poorer for years to come.” 

The PM’s announcement of the new ‘Turing scheme’ to replace the Erasmus programme was judged as more meanness towards England’s less better off young people, who have benefited hugely from the ability to study in the EU.

Tweets also focused on the reality of MPs having to vote this week after a one-day debate on a document that they will have barely had a chance to read and absorb.

What next? The PM’s upcoming party-piece – jingoistically ringing Big Ben at 11pm on New Year’s eve after MPs have ‘scrutinised’ the deal – is likely to add further fuel to the fire. And further justified contempt and mockery. It seems Johnson has chosen to forget how narrow that referendum vote was and how mired in controversy.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing to beat LedbyDonkeys ‘directory of deceit’, the, as the go-to New Year read; and German regional TV station NDR’s take on Johnson’s handling of negotiations: Brexnix, a send-up of The Crown.

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