POOR Colin Browning. He’s an ordinary bloke who’s become a national figure of ridicule thanks to a social media posting he put out the other day. Colin is from Leicestershire, the heart of Middle England, and last week he took a trip to Amsterdam. Not long after arrival, he posted this: “Absolutely disgusting service at Schiphol airport. 55 minutes we have been stood in the immigration queue. This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.”

To which, one can only say: “This is precisely the Brexit you voted for, Colin.” A few weeks before his Amsterdam trip, Colin posted: “Brilliant weekend celebrating Brexit … Where are all the remoaning cyclists who were laughing at me months ago. He who laughs last laughs longest.”


But it’s a pretty sure bet that there was one person who wasn’t laughing at Colin. The Prime Minister. To Boris Johnson, Colin is the canary in the coal-mine. A warning for the future of the trouble that lies ahead.

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Colin was angry at the first minor sign that Brexit wasn’t going right – for him. And his anger is directed at politicians. Colin voted for Brexit and he doesn’t want to be let down. He expects promises to be kept.

It’s maybe better if folk like Colin have their bubble burst early. The real disappointment still lies ahead. When reality does hit, the anger of people like Colin will boil over. Their anger – or should we call it rage in this day and age – will have only one direction to turn: towards Boris Johnson.

Johnson has slain his foes, he sits unchallenged in Number 10. He can dispense with who he pleases, he can start tinkering with the constitutional norms of British politics, he can ignore the Labour Party, and bait the Scots. He can shrug off past racist and homophobic comments which would have got the average office worker sacked for misconduct. He can blank concerns about an alleged conflict of interest regarding his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri. He can even refuse to answer questions about how many children he has.

But he cannot slip off the hook when it comes to Brexit. He alone owns Brexit now. Nobody else does. There’s no Remainers to blame any more, no troublesome MPs or judges or parliament to turn into scapegoats. His guiding policy is “Get Brexit Done”. So he’d better get it done and he better get it done to the liking of the millions of Colin Brownings out there.

On Sunday, there came a starkly honest indication that the European Union is not going to play Mr Nice Guy with Britain. The coming Brexit negotiations will be brutal.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for the future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart. But that is part of negotiations, everyone will defend their own interests.”

Rip each other apart. That’s hardly the language of friendship, negotiation and diplomacy. It’s just plain threatening but like it or not that’s the way Europe is going to behave. And why shouldn’t it? We left the club, now the club has to guard its own self-interest.

The Phoney War is well and truly over. That’s the great tragedy for Brexit true believers. They think the hard fighting is done and dusted when in fact it hasn’t even started.

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Brexiteers believed the titanic struggle was finished. They got their referendum, they won the referendum, and then they fought the Great War of 2019 to get Brexit through Parliament. The election secured victory and their champion rode into Downing Street to claim his laurels.

How wrong they were. The real pain and suffering wasn’t the referendum and its grinding, agonising three-year aftermath – the real pain and suffering starts now with the divorce negotiations. The last few years may have been divisive and ugly, but the coming years matter much more as they will decide the fate of this country and its position in the world.

EU negotiations are set to begin next month. At the moment, all the other states are working out their strategy, their tactics, their red lines, their ruses, their threats, their sticks and carrots. Britain is about to go into a boxing ring against 27 other fighters, and Dominic Cummings is the coach.

Most bookies would give good odds on the lone boxer getting knocked out in the first round. Brexiteers have been living in Dreamland since the election. Soon it’ll be time for a 6am wake up call followed by a cold shower and no breakfast.

If Brexit doesn’t prove a success for Johnson – and a relatively quick success at that – then the Prime Minister will be in serious trouble. Those Red Wall seats which Johnson took from Labour in the north of England want economic change, and rightly so. Voters there expect Brexit to work.

These new Tory voters believe their lives, communities and aspirations were trashed by the old system of neo-liberalism and globalisation. On this, they’re pretty much right. They saw Brexit as a chance to change and improve their lives. Brexit gave them hope. Good luck to whoever takes that hope away from them.

Johnson has played these new voters like a fiddle so far. Since becoming Prime Minster he’s nationalised Northern Rail, announced the biggest increase in public spending in more than 15 years, shelved plans to cut corporation tax, raised the minimum wage, and made a show of putting big tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook on warning over taxation.

When it comes to the economy, he’s offering a populist agenda with a leftish bent to wary Labour voters who’ve come around to the Tories due to Brexit. Johnson’s tilt to the left economically has wrong footed the remains of the Labour Party.

But if Brexit doesn’t work, Johnson’s tilt to the left will be for nothing. A failed Brexit will put the ‘left behind’ – those voters struggling most economically – at an even greater disadvantage than before. And there’s nowhere for Johnson to hide any more when it comes to Brexit. It’s his baby, his responsibility.

When Brexit goes wrong, the Colin Brownings of this world will have no-one left to blame but Johnson – and themselves, of course.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year