The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) came as a much-needed, hurriedly wrapped Christmas present for the UK Prime Minister. At the end of a difficult year, in which his grip on the UK’s Covid-19 strategy has come under hardening criticism from all sides, the TCA showed he could win through on an issue perhaps as complex as the pandemic itself. He made this clear when the deal was struck: “We have today resolved a question that has bedevilled our politics for decades and it is up to all of us together as a newly and truly independent nation to realize the immensity of this moment and to make the most of it.”
In further comments Boris Johnson sought to please both a domestic and an EU audience. For those who had backed Brexit, the key prize was sovereignty of decision-making. “We have taken back control of our laws and destiny,” he said. To European partners, he was keen to offer the hand of friendship and cooperation, and to underline the UK was not turning its back on Europe:
“I say again directly to our EU friends and partners, I think this deal means a new stability and a new certainty in what has sometimes been a fractious and difficult relationship,” he said. “We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter, and indeed, never let it be forgotten, your number one market. Because although we will have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe."
In all, the political mood in the UK on the eve of 2021 is largely one of relief – whether expressly stated and tinged with optimism for supporters of Brexit, or privately felt and tinged with regret for opponents of Brexit. This is because the effect of Brexit on the last three-and-a-half years of UK politics has been deeply divisive and, ultimately, destabilizing. Those times of conflict are, seemingly, at an end.
There is, however, one signal exception to this: whether Scotland remains in the United Kingdom is put in further doubt by Brexit. Expect this to become a defining political issue in the UK over the next few years.