t was late evening of 31 January 2020, and there seemed just a chance, a remote chance, of a reluctant coming together. The fissure exposed by the Brexit vote – a fissure that had by now spread cracks all over the once reasonably United Kingdom – might yet be capable of being, if not bridged, then respectably papered over.
I was in London’s Parliament Square that night – as were fewer people than you might have expected at what will be seen forever as a historic juncture: the UK’s official departure from the European Union. And some of us, at least – as I overheard from the Americans immediately behind me – were there for the history rather than the rejoicing, which was unexpectedly muted.
Nigel Farage, by now of the Brexit Party, though with a reasonable claim to have been masterminded the whole Eurosceptic project, had hoped for a sparkling Leave Means Leave jamboree to see out the UK’s 47 years of EU membership. One by one, though, most of the grandiose plans had been stripped away by a central government concerned not to inflame passions further and by a city government whose voters had massively supported Remain.
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