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The Enright Files: Conversations about Brexit and barriers

Brexit became a reality on Jan. 31, after three-and-a-half years of political chaos and gridlock following the 2016 referendum. This month on the Enright Files, conversations about the drama and reasons behind Brexit — and about what drives nations to wall themselves off from the world.

One of the most tumultuous periods of modern British political history is finally over

Brexit supporters celebrated in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday as Britain left the European Union. The country's official departure followed a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (Peter Morrison/Associated Press)
Listen to the full episode53:58

After bitter divisions, furious arguments and years of standstill, one of the most tumultuous periods of modern British political history is finally over. 

At least for now. 

There are still negotiations to be had, compromises to be made and treaties to be signed, while the U.K. attempts to iron out exactly what it wants from a future trading relationship with the European Union. 

Brexit became a reality on Jan. 31, after three-and-a-half years of political chaos and gridlock following the 2016 referendum on EU membership.

It seemed at times that the Brits were showcasing their gifts for tragedy and farce simultaneously.

Brexit ended the political career of David Cameron, the former Conservative prime minister who called for the June 2016 Brexit referendum. Brexit both ushered in and terminated Theresa May's tenure as prime minister.

After years of division, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's election victory broke the deadlock in British Parliament. (Paul Ellis, POOL, AFP, Getty Images)

Finally, Brexit made Boris Johnson prime minister, and Johnson made Brexit "happen." 

But he presides over a divided populace with polarization still hanging in the air.

The price of Brexit has been a Scotland that would rather cast its lot with the EU. Northern Ireland now finds itself pondering its future relationship with the Republic of Ireland to the south, risking the undoing of decades of peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement.

Brexit threw British Parliament into disarray. Things reached an emotional pitch and degree of turbulence rarely seen in the halls of Westminster.

Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray and a pro-Brexit protester argue as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. (Jack Taylor, Getty Images)

Hammering out a Brexit deal was a maddening process for Brexiteer and Remainer ministers. And the endless months of politicians failing to legislate had the public cycling through extremities of emotion to the point of fatigue and indifference. 

It seemed to many that the people in charge had no clothes on, in their repeatedly stagnant attempts to contend with a near-impossible process. 

And since 1989, when the Berlin Wall was demolished, it seemed like walls would keep coming down. 

Globalization, the spread of liberal democracy, free trade deals, and the internet would rid the world of the barriers that separate people. 

But now, Britain is figuratively walling itself off from Europe with Brexit. And many other countries are literally building walls to seal themselves off from their neighbours.

Michael Enright revisits interviews he has conducted on Brexit, as well as the rise of ultra-nationalism across the globe. 

Guests in this episode:

  • John Bercow is the former Speaker of the British House of Commons.
  • Fintan O'Toole is the author of Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.
  • Tim Marshall is the author of The Age of Walls: How Barriers Between Nations are Changing our World.

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