In the land of my birth, which is once again in total lockdown to prevent the further spread of Covid-19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson managed to pull off what most Brits consider to be a pretty good deal for the United Kingdom at the very end of last year. Britain finally separated from the European Union at 11 p.m. Dec. 31, 2020 when it left Europe’s single market and customs union. 48 years after joining what became the European Union, the UK cut its ties and the British exit (“Brexit”) became a reality.
As a quick reminder, the British voted to leave Europe in June 2016 and the past four years have been interesting to say the least, with two delays to Brexit and two general elections. Europe is Britain’s nearest and biggest trading partner, so a year ago both sides agreed to keep many things the same until the end of the year in order to allow enough time to agree to the terms of a new trade deal. Therefore, Boris Johnson had 11 months to agree a new trade deal after the UK officially left the European trading bloc.
I am sure that when he made this commitment, he had no idea that he would be doing so alongside waging war on the pandemic and being hospitalized himself with the disease in the spring of 2020. After a complicated and sometimes heated negotiation, Boris signed the deal personally after the document was flown to the UK from Brussels in a Royal Air Force plane. I have mixed feelings about this historical moment. As a citizen of the United Kingdom, and of the USA as well since 2012, I can see many different aspects to the situation. Frankly it makes me feel pretty old! I remember as a 6-year-old in 1972 the teachers and adults in my life talking about the European Communities Act, which meant that Britain was putting plans in place to join the European Community or ‘Common Market’ as it was then described. I grew up against a backdrop of arguments and media coverage about how joining Europe would or wouldn’t deprive the UK of its sovereignty and of many traditional aspects of life in Great Britain.
As I was a child, discussions about loss of sovereign rights and harmonized regulations really didn’t resonate with me. However, when the discussion turned to food, I was engaged in it. For instance, would we Brits have to really change the name of a Cornish Pasty (a baked pastry with a potato, onion and meat filling) since they might now come from somewhere other than Cornwall, England? Would they really change a Bakewell tart (a place in Derbyshire which invented this almond, jam and pastry treat) to a Brussels tart? Were certain British cheeses really going to be outlawed because they failed to meet higher EU food processing standards?
I also remember heated discussions about regulatory overreach which would outlaw the ‘great British banger’! Traditional British sausages generally have a much higher water and cereal content than American and German sausages. This is perhaps a hangover from the difficult days of meat rationing during the second world war, when British butchers would bulk up their sausages with breadcrumbs and water. This higher water content is why sausages are referred to as “bangers,” as in “bangers and mash.” As the water in the sausage turns to steam, the sausages often pop or bang loudly as they explode open in the frying pan.
Anyway, back to the bigger issues on Brexit. In 1992, when I was a young woman working for a big media group in London, I was involved in a marketing campaign to educate the general public about the new Maastricht Treaty. This treaty was aimed to unite all of Europe and announced the vision for shared European citizenship, the eventual introduction of a single currency (the Euro), and for common foreign and security policies. Wow did this split the country in half, and it stayed that way for almost 30 years. Many Brits were concerned about being forced to give up their splendid dark blue passports, the right for greengrocers to sell two pounds of tomatoes rather than a metric kilogram and ceding monetary policy to Brussels by giving up the British currency of pounds for Euros. As we now know, in 1999 the UK (along with Denmark and Sweden) chose not to join the Euro although the Independent Republic of Ireland did.
In some ways I feel that the European Union experiment and the constant national debate about it has been a backdrop to my life, and even though my home has been in Coastal Georgia for the last 12 years, I still watch what is going on with great interest. It appears that the new Brexit deal defines how the UK and EU will remain separate entities but have agreed a framework to live, work and trade together. There are shared rules and standards about tariffs, workers’ rights, social and environmental regulations and more. While the complete freedom to work and live between the UK and the EU comes to an end, the UK is now free to set its own trade policy and can negotiate deals with other countries. Talks are now being held between the British government and the USA, Australia and New Zealand about new, direct trade deals. There is a lot more information available at www.bbc.co.uk I will leave you with a quote from Boris Johnson himself: “11:00 pm on the 31st December marks a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally.” I hope so Boris, I hope so.
God Bless America and the United Kingdom! Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.
Lesley Francis can be contacted at be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .