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What does the Brexit legacy mean for the Conservatives?

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Today marks four years since the UK officially left the European Union. 

Should you wish to send flowers to celebrate, you may struggle. 

MPs last week urged ministers to urgently address the risk of a shortage of European blooms ahead of Valentine’s Day

Or as one Parliamentary wag put it: “Roses are red, violets are blue, will there be a shortage from the EU?”

New trading rules for products from the bloc coming into effect this week are prompting warnings of significant delays to plant and animal imports.

It won’t just be bouquets, though. Border hold-ups could affect the shelf-lives of fresh produce including fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, sparking further price rises.

Marco Forgione, Institute of Export & International Trade director-general, has warned 70 per cent of firms he’s spoken to “remain concerned about potential teething problems”. 

The reality of Brexit, for good and ill, is being felt by businesses across the country. But the most fundamental impact of the vote remains the one it had on the Tory party. 

Brexit revealed a fissure in the soul of the Conservatives – and enacted a fundamental realignment among its believers.

Commentator John Oxley, writing for Tory bible the Spectator magazine, says Brexit “never fully seemed” a Conservative endeavour. He’s right. 

Of course, this happened to a lesser effect on the left as well – with Jeremy Corbyn’s notable reluctance to commit to Remain perhaps best known among the ‘Lexit’ crew. 

No longer simply divided into two camps across the House of Commons chamber, MPs were fractured along pro and anti-European lines as well. The resulting quartets shifted and jostled for position, fighting for oxygen, BBC panel appearances and legislative control.

Exhausted voters looked on – at times in horror – as democracy appeared to grind to a halt, gnawing on its own tail.

Reverberations of this era of havoc, however, can still be heard loud and clear today. That four-way retriangulation has left our politics, apparently, now semi-permanently out of shape.

For Boris it was a vote-winner, but with Brexit ‘done’ Rishi Sunak is finding it rather harder to bring together the same coalition. 

Research by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank suggests that “with no Brexit ‘glue’, Leave voters are no longer wedded” to the Tories, with a “declining attachment to the party.”

Pollster James Johnson recently argued similarly in the Telegraph, warning the “narrow but viable path to victory” he had foreseen for Sunak had “all but vanished”, with the Tory “nationwide collapse” linked to 2019 Leave voters melting away.

That has left the Tory party unable to unite around one vision – or indeed, one individual. Conservatism continues to struggle with the revolution it began. 

It’s not all droopy veg and wilted roses, however, at least in the City. 

Brokers at Anglo Scottish Finance suggest warnings of a brain drain were “dramatically inflated”. A predicted 75,000 financial services jobs were predicted to be lost to the EU post-Brexit – but the reality proved closer to 7,000.

And while freshly inked deals, such as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s “powerhouse” financial services agreement with Switzerland, offer a sense of direction, it will still be some time before the true, long-term impact of the decision to leave can be authentically felt.

For now, though, the referendum result will continue to cast a long and profound shadow over our politics.

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