BRUSSELS – The New Year could finally bring a fresh start and a commitment to let bygones be bygones for Britain and the European Union.
But don’t bet on it.
The U.K. has chosen to leave the EU, setting a course away from the continental mainland. But the two sides’ histories have been too intertwined for 1,000 years for the split to be simple.
Eleven months after Britain’s formal departure from the EU, Brexit becomes a fact of daily life on Friday, once a transition period ends and the U.K. fully leaves the world’s most powerful trading bloc.
But customs controls, red tape and the residue of bile caused by years of acrimonious divorce talks may provide the sting — not the thrill — of the new. And despite the 4½-year extraction process, loose ends will surface for months, even years, to come.
“For one reason or another, the U.K. is likely to be in non-stop negotiations with the EU for decade after decade,” said Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform think-tank.
Brexit marks the end of an awkward relationship. Britain joined the then-European Economic Community in 1973, but never fully embraced the bloc's project of ever-closer integration. The EU was born out of the ashes of World War II and its delusional, destructive nationalism.
As a nation victorious in two world wars and with lingering memories of its imperial past, Britain viewed the pan-European project much differently than, for example, Germany.