Back in 1965, when I was less than 10 years old, the UK spent several weeks engaging in a death watch, as Winston Churchill, the UK’s war time leader, was terminally ill. Day after day we heard sombre bulletins of his condition, which seemed to point in a downwards direction, and sure enough, eventually it was announced that he had passed away. The period was, to some extent, the end of an era, and it was a sombre moment.
Now, we seem to be re-enacting the same “Death watch” process with Brexit. Deadline after deadline has come and gone, and there is still no definitive direction (Yes! A Deal? No! No Deal?) despite continual talks between negotiators and occasional talks between Boris Johnson and EU senior leaders.
What is clear is that any deal, should one be agreed, will (a) be a very “bare bones” deal, with a whole host of other agreements still to be finalized, and (b) it will most probably not be formally ratified by the EU Parliament in time for the beginning of 2021, which will oblige the EU and the UK to agree on yet another collection of interim arrangements.
As I write this, nobody seems to know if a deal will be agreed. The UK government has made some concessions, most notably over the Internal Market Bill, which was a “red line” for the EU because it conflicted with the EU Withdrawal Agreement and threatened the legal basis of the Good Friday Agreement. The UK government, having been forced to withdraw the offending clauses, is desperately attempting to claim that they were only included as part of a negotiating tactic. However, if you introduce something in the middle of a negotiation that causes your negotiating partners to inform you that you will not get any kind of deal if you persist in that course of action, that does not seem to me, in any way, to be a useful tactic. Sending a signal that you regard treaties as optional does not play well in geopolitics.
Chris Grey does his usual excellent job of summarizing the state of the current mess. As usual, he throws in a money quote:
The Brexiters have spent decades saying that the EU is akin to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, totalitarian and dictatorial, and a ‘protectionist racket’. Yet they seem to have predicated Brexit on the starry-eyed belief that it would be cuddly and nice, and a pushover in the negotiations.
While all of this talking and to-ing-and-fro-ing is happening, businesses in the UK have taken action, by attempting to forward buy and stockpile. This in turn is overloading current distribution paths, leading to traffic chaos. In the meantime, more and more consequences of the UK leaving the EU are becoming obvious, ranging from insurance cost increases, through pet restrictions, to severe restrictions on the transport of foodstuffs.
Brexit is going to be a shit-show. The only question now, is how big a shit-show it will turn out to be.