Disappointment is the price paid as Brexit marks its 1st anniversary

One year has passed since Britain completed its withdrawal from the European Union. The British people must be keenly aware of the price they have paid to leave the single market, which guarantees the free movement of goods and people.

In January 2021, Britain and the EU entered into a new relationship based on a free trade agreement. There are no tariffs on trade between the two sides, but the new customs procedures increased costs for companies, and trade has fallen into a downward trend.

It is estimated that Britain’s trade volume has been pushed down by more than 10% compared to what it would have been if it had remained in the EU.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had stressed that trade would be conducted smoothly even if the country left the EU. He stated an overly optimistic outlook and should not escape blame for creating confusion and disappointment.

The decline in the number of low-wage workers from the EU due to the newly introduced immigration restrictions is having a serious impact on people’s lives.

Last autumn, a shortage of truck drivers caused gasoline supply to be disrupted, which became a major social problem. The number of nursing care workers has also decreased, resulting in a decline in services. There are many fields of business that face similar problems, such as meat processing.

Under the new immigration system, applicants for work visas will be judged on such factors as their English proficiency, job skills and the availability of employment, which are converted into points. The new system imposes higher hurdles compared to before Brexit, when people were allowed to immigrate freely from EU member countries.

The background is that in the 2016 referendum on whether to remain in or leave the EU, calls for restrictions on immigration provided a tailwind for the Leave camp. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction that the increase in immigrants from Eastern Europe was putting pressure on the jobs and welfare of British people.

The current situation of a noticeable labor shortage shows that immigrants working in low-wage jobs are essential, and in this regard the adverse effects of rapidly changing the immigration system have surfaced. In order to maintain the competitiveness of companies and the stability of society, a more flexible system may be necessary.

In an opinion poll, about 60% of respondents said that Brexit has gone badly. Even 40% of those who voted to leave the EU in the referendum had a negative view of Brexit, indicating widespread disappointment.

The question now is whether the British government will be able to translate the policies made possible by leaving the EU into long-term growth. Its application for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the strengthening of relations with Indo-Pacific nations will be key tests.

In Europe, skepticism about the EU had spread due to the impact of Brexit and other affairs, and there were concerns about a series of countries leaving the bloc, but no countries followed suit. The turmoil in Britain from the referendum up to the present may have taught the people of other countries a lesson.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 22, 2022.