There have been almost three years of bitter debate since the 2016 referendum; Britain has trembled on the edge of crashing out of the European Union twice and around a million people took part in a giant march against leave a few weeks ago.
Yet the situation is – on the whole – as calm as a mill pond.
Take the million strong march. From the start to the end in Parliament Square I saw just one policeman (apart from the police guarding the Prime Minister’s residence – Downing Street) and he was chatting and smiling with the demonstrators.
Good natured, self-mocking and entirely peaceful, it was a very British occasion.
Parliament does its job
Much has been made about the gridlock in Parliament. MPs cannot find a way forward. Yet it is evident to anyone who is not caught up in the Westminster whirlwind that the debate is actually going well.
- The division in Parliament accurately reflects the division in society. Despite some shifts in opinion since the referendum there is still – broadly – a 50 – 50 split between Brexiteers and Remainers. MPs are doing their job in reflecting this.
- Parliament, guided by its able, but much abused speaker, John Bercow, is showing signs of innovation. It is not just holding the executive, led by Theresa May, to account. Backbench MPs actually managed to seize the initiative when the government showed itself incapable of acting.
- New parties have appeared to reflect changes in political opinion. These include those who split from Labour and the Tories to found The Independent Group (naturally called Tiggers) and now renamed Change UK. The Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage has emerged from UKIP.
Cheers, everyone! This round is on me.
This is not to suggest that there have not been real costs.
The government has already spent an eye-watering £1.5 billion on preparing for a no-deal Brexit that will hopefully never happen. Growth has been hit and investments postponed or abandoned. Companies have moved headquarters or staff out of the UK.
There has also been the emergence of the far right, with UKIP now in the hands of radicals including some with links to extremist groups. This poses real dangers, but it has – so far – been contained.
In the meantime most Brits are enjoying the early Spring sunshine, delighted that Brexit is no longer dominating every news bulletin and planning summer holidays.
So let’s go to the pub!