We’ll always be part of Europe post-Brexit, just not the failed EU - Bill Carmichael

“FREE at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.”

The words of Doctor Martin Luther King perfectly sum up my mood this morning as we stand as a proud, free, independent nation once again.

Technically, we left the EU last January, but the end of the transition period feels like a significant moment when we usher in a new era of liberty and prosperity and take control of our own laws, money, borders and territorial waters.

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And to do so with a comprehensive trade agreement signed with our friends in the EU is a large, juicy cherry on top of the celebratory cake.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement at 10 Downing Street, Westminster, paving the way for Brexit to finally happen this New Year. Photo: PA/Leon Neal

That deal, which many Remainers claimed would take more than 10 years to finalise, was actually thrashed out in less than 11 months.

They were wrong about that, as they have been wrong about virtually everything over the last five years. Who can forget the bloodcurdling warnings of genocide, an outbreak of World War Three, total economic collapse and the loss of 800,000 jobs if we dared to vote to leave the EU? Didn’t happen did it?

Neither did we run out of cheese, yoghurt, butter and Mars Bars; diabetics are not dying for want of insulin; house prices have not collapsed; planes are still landing and taking off; the NHS and the Premier League still exist, nor has there been a mass outbreak of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea.

My favourite of these preposterous Project Fear stories was a BBC report that argued, apparently in all seriousness, that if we left the EU we would no longer be able to eat sandwiches.

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To their great credit the British people listened patiently to this nonsense and then voted no fewer than six times for Brexit – at three General Elections, two European Parliament elections and the EU referendum itself, which represented the biggest democratic mandate in our nation’s history.

Of course that vote created division, but I am afraid the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of those Remainers who refused to accept the result of a democratic vote simply because they lost, and with the establishment elite who tried every trick in the book to thwart the will of the people.

Now the issue is resolved, let’s hope the scars will heal and die-hard Remainers find some closure, not least for the sake of their mental health. If you are hoping your country fails, just so you can be proved right, you are in a very bad place indeed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to sign the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement at 10 Downing Street after Wednesday's Parliamentary vote. Photo: PA/Leon Neal

In contrast, I am confident that once the battle against Covid is won, we have a bright future ahead of us. For example in recent weeks our Government has signed trade deals with more than 50 countries, including Singapore, Canada, Norway, Kenya, Vietnam, Switzerland and Iceland.

Beyond the borders of the sclerotic and declining EU, there is a big, beautiful, fast-growing world out there, and they are as eager to do business with us as we are with them.

Brexit was always an optimistic, outward looking movement. Indeed, the only person I heard talking about the glories of Empire was the arch European federalist, Guy Verhofstadt, who conjured up a nightmarish vision of a world divided into mutually hostile empires – China, the US, the EU etc – in a state of permanent conflict. It was the most jingoistic speech I have ever heard and was cheered to the rafters by the new imperialists of the Lib Dem party. No thanks Guy, we prefer to be on friendly terms with everyone.

As for the EU, I genuinely wish them the best of luck – because frankly they are going to need it. I don’t envy them having to solve the blight of long-term unemployment that, even before Covid struck, has destroyed the life chances of millions of people, particularly the young, across southern Europe.

And trying to run a single currency that encompasses the economies of Germany and the Netherlands on the one hand, and Greece, Spain and Italy on the other, is never going to work. Something, at some point, will have to give.

But that is their problem now, and I hope they find a solution – not least because prosperous neighbours will make good customers for the UK.

And remember we’ll always be part of Europe – just not part of the failed political project that is the EU.

So Happy New Year! – or Buon Anno, Frohes Neues Jahr, Bonne Annee, Feliz Ano Nuevo and Gelukkig Nieuwjaar, as our European friends might say.

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