Boris says Brexit will be a breeze. Really?: Terry Milewski
Boris Johnson tries to suggest not much will change when the U.K. leaves the EU
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
William Shakespeare - Richard II
The gloomy part of that speech isn't so familiar, is it?
If we remember anything at all, it's the happy part. On his deathbed, good old John of Gaunt burbles on about his beloved England: "This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle ... This precious stone set in a silver sea."
Great stuff — but that's just Shakespearean clickbait, meant to lure you into a tale that quickly turns grim.
Then we see that the old boy is predicting ruin under the wicked King Richard. It's a self-inflicted disaster, he croaks. England has "made a shameful conquest of itself."
Everybody take a Valium
Fast forward four centuries, and John of Gaunt is at it again. In fact, he's everywhere, warning us that the "sceptered isle" is doomed to penury after the self-inflicted Brexit vote.
Writing in The Telegraph, the merry former mayor of London insists that "there will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market." Oh? That would be news to the rest of the European Union, which just saw Johnson lead the campaign to storm out of that single market.
But never mind. "Britain is part of Europe, and always will be," Johnson croons. Again, not exactly what he campaigned on. Then this: "EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU."
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Really? Yes, really. "British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down."
Well, John of Gaunt may not be convinced. Especially if he currently resides in Canada, like a lot of other Brits.
The British Canadians
They've lost their vast empire, but the Brits haven't stopped wandering away from Shakespeare's "precious stone set in a silver sea." Not a few have ended up in Canada — and they keep coming.
Of course, only some of these Canadians have British passports. It's estimated that about half a million do, although many more are eligible if they or their parents were born in the U.K. And they hang on to that right for a very good reason: they or their kids are entitled to live, play and work in any of the 28 countries of the European Union.
Now, that's down to just one — and a rather damp country at that. A British passport has been massively devalued.
That's no trifle for younger Brits, who voted strongly to remain in the EU. And, for hundreds of thousands of Canadians with British citizenship, the world has suddenly shrunk.
Their Lordships beg to differ
The problem with Boris Johnson's sunny forecast is that membership in the European Union is predicated on a fundamental bargain: if you want access to the single market, then you have to accept a single labour market, too — meaning the free movement of people. And the British House of Lords does not share Boris Johnson's view of what happens if Britain quits.
In a report published in May while the referendum loomed, their Lordships' committee concluded that untangling the rights that expats have acquired would be "one of the most complex aspects of the negotiations" on Britain's exit.
"One of the most important aspects of the withdrawal negotiations," the Lords concluded, "would be determining the acquired rights of the two million or so U.K. citizens living in other member states, and equally of EU citizens living in the U.K. This would be a complex and daunting task."
Politely put. More bluntly, a constitutional expert told the committee: "The long-term ghastliness of the legal complications is almost unimaginable."
Picture from Romford today. (Photo with permission from the must-follow <a href="https://twitter.com/diamondgeezer">@diamondgeezer</a>) <a href="https://t.co/tsB56jAuww">pic.twitter.com/tsB56jAuww</a>—@jimwaterson
Perhaps this won't go as smoothly as Boris Johnson supposes.
Perhaps John of Gaunt was on to something.