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Editorial: 'As UK leaves, perhaps some mutual interest can remain'

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Nigel Farage celebrates inside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. PA Photo

Nigel Farage celebrates inside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. PA Photo

PA

Nigel Farage celebrates inside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. PA Photo

It is hard to celebrate the ending of a 47-year relationship. But a fractured consensus in the UK seems to think it is time. If it is, Big Ben won't be in full voice to mark it.

In any case, Nigel Farage would make enough noise to drown out any plaintive bongs the grand old clock might sound.

The late French president Charles de Gaulle, who had twice blocked the UK's entry, would probably have allowed himself a wry smile at the predicament. He had argued the UK was "incompatible" with the project. It may not have been first in to the EU, but it has the distinction of being first to leave since Greenland in 1985.

It has taken three-and-a-half years to effect its farewell. Its departure anxiety escalated into a series of political convulsions which left the country exhausted. So when Boris Johnson promised to get it done, and end hostilities for good or ill, there was no heart for further engagement.

The Brexiteers relished their opportunity to break away from an "undemocratic" EU.

The fault lay in Brussels: it was blamed for immigration and suffocating and restrictive trade laws.

Bungling bureaucratic hob-goblins would not stand in the way of making Britain great again.

For Remainers, it has been a wrench. Anxiety about European instability, potential economic self-harm, and loss of jobs are yet a concern.

The UK's membership was always uneasy. It began on January 1, 1973, under prime minister Ted Heath.

Later it would reject the single currency. It was also squeamish on integration. Margaret Thatcher would live to bitterly regret when in 1985 the UK approved the Single European Act. This removed barriers towards greater harmonisation across Europe.

A drive towards a single market and political union was seized on by some as the evolution of a super-state.

The issues Brexit poses for our country are enormous. They may have been well rehearsed; for all that, there are still far more questions than answers.

Michel Barnier is known to be exasperated at Mr Johnson's jarring insistence there would be no customs checks after Brexit.

Any form of hard Brexit will be bruising for this country. Maintaining as free a trading environment as possible is vital for us.

The worry is that Mr Johnson has set a rigid time-frame and resolved to pursue maximum autonomy.

The EU is just as adamant; divergence will have a negative impact on any deal.

The closer the alignment, the better the trade deal, it insists. The degree of access to the single market will turn on adherence to EU regulations.

Both sides have much to gain by a comprehensive agreement.

But the prospect of a cruder and more basic free-trade agreement, complete with quotas and tariffs, if the divides cannot be bridged is still too real for complacency. Agreements may sever but the bonds of mutual interest can yet be preserved.

Irish Independent