So how does it feel to wake up in an independent and sovereign country once more? If you are a longtime Brexit campaigner and political obsessive like I am then I bet the answer is “fantastic”, sore heads notwithstanding. If, on the other hand, you are a more normal and balanced person who keeps an eye on politics but sensibly does not allow it to invade your every conscious moment then you’d be forgiven for wondering if anything much has really changed.
The answer is that it has. Already. On day one. But the Government is not that good at getting the message out. For a start, the hated tampon tax that saw VAT levied on women’s sanitary products has ended. Inside the EU it was compulsory despite every major British political party opposing it.
The controversial “pulse” trawling that saw huge shoals of fish electrocuted to facilitate their mass capture became unlawful in UK waters at eleven o’clock last night.
More changes are on the way too that could not have been achieved within the EU. Live animal exports are set to be banned by the end of the year. The rules on the use of capital by financial institutions are going to be reformed to make it easier for tech start-ups to attract investment.
Now that the legal right of free movement to Britain for 400 million EU nationals has gone, we can also design and implement an immigration policy to suit our country’s needs. And we already went our own way on acquiring stocks of vaccines against Covid, staying out of an EU-wide scheme to beneficial effect.
Over the next few years ministers need to get far more savvy about communicating these “wins” from Brexit.
Fortunately, they don’t have to look very far for an example of a senior politician who has mastered the art of highlighting the perceived advantages of constitutional change. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is superb at it. She has squeezed every drop of moisture from the flannel to nourish the idea that devolution of political power to Scotland has resulted in only good things and therefore that full independence would be even better.
From student fees to prescription charges, the alleged advantages of not being “run by England” are drummed into every Scottish citizen relentlessly. During the Covid crisis, Ms Sturgeon has emphasised at every turn that she is running the show, decking out her measures in tartan and pre-empting intended announcements from Boris Johnson that she has been looped into in advance.
When the PM originally produced a three-tier regime she came up with four tiers. Had he gone on to devise ten tiers she would no doubt have aped the guitarist from Spinal Tap by dialling up to eleven.
Scotland may have just benefited hugely from the UK Government’s success at pre-ordering huge stocks of anti-Covid vaccines, but does anyone think that will stop Ms Sturgeon finding a way of taking ownership of that too?
Once ministers have studied the art of how she does it they should next recall the EU’s ingenuity at getting its circle of stars flag into Britain’s public spaces. Any infrastructure project that received even marginal funding from Brussels (our own money recycled to us at 50p in the pound and with pettifogging rules applied) would have its hoardings plastered in EU livery. Invariably a plaque would be attached once a building had been finished to remind the local populace of how grateful they ought to feel.
Fortunately, the approach did not work on enough people to make EU membership sufficiently popular to stick, but it was a close-run thing. So let’s have a badge to go on the side of levelling-up infrastructure projects that makes the point that the financing is a product of UK independence and freedom of political manoeuvre.
The aim should be that by the time of the next election the very idea of us ever getting dragged back into the EU’s orbit, let alone actually rejoining it, should have become unthinkable not just to determined Brexiteers but to nearly everybody else as well.
The genius for self-promotion that saw London’s popular bicycles-for-hire become known not as Ken’s Cycles (after the mayor who ordered them) but instead as Boris Bikes must now be unleashed at national level. The Government’s content department already has a long line of post-Brexit products in the pipeline. Now the marketing department must get out there and sell them.