Richard North, 24/01/2020  

So, the Withdrawal Bill has been given the Royal Assent, after the Lords decided not to challenge the removal of their amendments by the Commons.

The Bill now becomes part of the law of the land. And thus does it pave the way to the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, ending a membership which started on 1 January 1973 with our formal accession to the EEC.

This is only the first stage of a multi-stage process and we have a long way to go, but that hasn't stopped the buffoon Johnson declaring that the UK has "crossed the Brexit finish line". And, with the job not even half-finished, he tells us that the UK can "move forwards as one" and put "years of rancour and division behind it".

All that is now needed procedurally is for the European Parliament to give its consent, with a debate in Brussels planned for 29 January. The vote will probably be the same day, with no sign that any trouble is expected, especially as the Constitutional Affairs Committee has agreed to recommend that the Parliament should cast an affirmative vote. Even Brexit Party MEPs are indicating that they will vote in favour.

With that, the General Affairs Council of the European Union must declare the Withdrawal Agreement "concluded" by a qualified majority vote, a process expected on 30 January. Then it's game over. We wait until 11pm on the 31st January (midnight Brussels time) and we're out.

There most certainly will be a number of celebrations in the UK, but officials in Brussels are anxious not to make a show of things. The UK flag will be lowered some time after midnight and stored in a locker with all the other third country flags.

No doubt, a few snappers will be hired to watch out for the moment, and we can expect photos to be winging their way around the world shortly thereafter, symbolising a deed which many thought could never happen.

With that, the real work starts – or will start once the European Union has got its negotiating mandate set out and approved by the European Council. There isn't a formal meeting of the Council until 26 March but it is expected that arrangements will be made in time for talks to start by the end of February or early March.

Where we go from there is anyone's guess. Given the current noise level, the absence of hard information from HMG and the insanely short timescale (if Johnson sticks to his word), the only thing we can expect is an extremely limited treaty (or, possibly, none at all). But, as to the exact composition, there are too many unknowns to be able to hazard a prediction.

In the interim, the transition period kicks in, with the UK remaining a de facto member of the European Union, still obeying all its laws and enjoying all the privileges of membership, bar that of representation in the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Council.

Some 73 UK MEPs (and their more numerous staffs) will be made redundant, and an unknown number of officials may be redeployed from Brussels to other duties – although the number may actually increase over the short-term as negotiations progress.

As to the end of "rancour and division", that is nothing but a vacuous pipe dream from one of the most divisive politicians since Thatcher (and even beyond). And, as Suzanne Moore writes in the Guardian, Brexit won't be "done".

Sadly – but entirely in character – Moore goes on to write that Brexit "will be an eternity, and deathly dull". There, she probably speaks for most of the legacy media. The collective has decided that Brexit is "deathly dull", and that is the way it will be treated.

It's worth observing here that in the negotiations for the UK's accession to the EEC, officials were worried about keeping the negotiating details away from the prying eyes of the media. In the event, though, they need not have been concerned. As the talks entered into detail, the media lost interest and it was a job getting journalists (or their editors) to report anything at all.

What goes round comes round. The media is certainly no better – and most likely considerably worse – in understanding and reporting the issues, and if the chatterati have indeed already decided that the forthcoming negotiations are to be "deathly dull", then we can't expect much energy to be devoted to following the proceedings.

One thing that will change, though, is the rhetoric. As we will have formally left the EU, the terms "leaver" and "remainer" will become obsolete. There may – and almost certainly will – be a new caucus of "rejoiners", but theirs will be a forlorn endeavour as the momentum is towards widening the gap with "Europe".

What may be interesting to watch is whether there is any serious development of a "hidden Brexit", where a domestic reform agenda takes root, capitalising on the disturbance brought about by our leaving the EU.

To take a cue from Pete, when the UK voted to leave we started a political revolution with so many moving parts it's impossible to predict where it will take us.

His thesis is that Brexit, ultimately, is rooted in an extreme arrogance of an establishment that doesn't act with consent, refuses to listen and in all instances believes that it knows better than the rest of us, believing that they have a God given right to impose anything they like on us.

And if that is the case, then the process of Brexit must move way beyond dealing with our external relations with the EU and the rest of the world. The agenda, though, does not even begin to address "rancour and division", which has the makings of being a permanent part of our society. Says Pete:
Remainers may be horrified by Brexit but they can't say they didn't have it coming. They've done everything possible to insult, antagonise and condescend to leavers. They hate Brexit precisely because it does give ordinary people a voice and for the first time in half a century they can't have it all their own way. This is the humbling they need and deserve.
Thus, he says, we need a political and cultural revolution to spark the ideas that will define the next era. It is already apparent that this wishy-washy Tory government has nothing to say for itself. It exists, he says, only because the alternative was unimaginably awful. By the time this lot are finished, though, the country will at least agree on one thing. Politics as we know it just doesn't work and that place on the Thames has outlived its usefulness.

Should that revolution come to pass, then Brexit will have been worth the pain. Since we joined the EEC, the elements of democracy in this country – always a fragile institution – have increasingly been put on hold. Clearly, the anti-democratic ethos of the EU must be contagious, as nearly half a century of community and union membership has turned us into a zombie state.

The trouble is that the practice of democracy does not come naturally. It requires learned behaviour and a commitment to processes, many of which are inherently inefficient but, as Churchill once said, are our "least worst" option.

Nevertheless, it is intriguing to see the response to calls for more democracy – and especially direct democracy (the only real kind) - when commentators shriek about "mob rule" at the thought of people being able to shape their own destinies and make their own decisions.

Brexit, therefore – more than anything – is going to require an attitudinal change, where we cast off the intellectual bonds that hold us subservient to our masters, whether they be in Brussels or Whitehall. That makes Brexit a state of mind, and once we get used to that, anything can happen.

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