Every month about this time I look at a blank piece of paper, blank computer screen actually, and work out how I’m going to write about Brexit. It’s a huge story as I’m sure you will appreciate. Even if you are not British nor a citizen of the European Union the way this plays out will stand as a test case to the independently minded everywhere.
Every month I skip the subject and find something else, not because there aren’t a million things to say, rather because you can be sure that an hour after the final full stop, everything you have just written will be rendered obsolete.
As I write this there are just 17 days to go until the 29th March, the day Britain will formally leave the EU, in theory at least. When you read this in April it will have already happened, possibly anyway. Last night in Strasbourg late night meetings between UK Prime minister Theresa May and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker ended with some sort of fudged agreement and the politicos and press pack jumped on late flights back to London to sell it to a sceptical UK parliament for a proposed vote later today. The morning press and journalists Twitter feeds are full of speculation about legal hoopla, as those for and against jostle for a few minutes on the morning TV and radio in a struggle to make sure their spin is louder than their opponents. Nobody is sure what is likely to happen this afternoon.
17 days to go.
Should the UK parliament decide it doesn’t like the deal, a deal barely discernible in difference from a deal they overwhelmingly threw out in December, then there will be another vote tomorrow to figure out if Brexit should be delayed.
16 days to go.
Commentators are clueless as to how this vote is likely to play out, and shrug their shoulders when asked to predict the fall out from either outcome. With a little over two weeks to go, then what?
Britain’s relationship with the European Union is worth billions on both sides, whether you are a Dutch farmer selling courgettes to UK supermarkets, a UK haulage firm with contracts in the EU, or a Japanese motor manufacturer shipping engines from Germany to an assembly plant in the UK. Whether you are one of the many millions on both sides of the Channel whose jobs, livelihoods and children’s future relies on this relationship. If you are an EU citizen living in the UK, or a UK citizen living in the EU. This matters, a lot, perhaps existentially. To be uncertain of what the future holds a little over two weeks out is not only impossible, but unforgivable, and it already has it’s victims.
Business can’t wait, and many haven’t. Companies that are used to planning years ahead simply can’t live with this level of uncertainty and have already acted, closing UK factories, shifting jobs and headquarters overseas and already costing thousands of jobs. The chances of them relocating back to the UK if a deal is reached must be viewed as slim at best.
I’m not going to take a view as to whether Brexit is a good thing or a bad thing, that is for another place and another time. Leavers and remainers agree on very little in this embattled debate as idealistic differences turn ugly, but surely they can all agree that this whole process has been a masterclass in how not to get things done. The whole process from the overly simplistic question in the initial referendum, to the mis information, to questionable campaign funding has been awful, and divisive. A cynic (moi?) might say that it is in the interests of the European Union to make an exit look chaotic and confused to dissuade the independently minded elements in France, Germany, Italy and others from pursuing their own path to independence. If it was, it appears to be an outstanding success, perhaps the only one in this whole farrago.
As you read this, you have the advantage over me, you will have seen a last minute deal that rescues the whole thing, and perhaps we are living in a new world of harmony, or perhaps you have seen more chaos as the can is kicked further down the road. Perhaps we are preparing for a second referendum with who knows what consequences.
It’s probably with remembering that this bit was supposed to be the easy bit. This has all been about the deal to withdraw from the EU, once it is out of the way we can all turn our attention to the much more complicated bit, the future agreement. The unpicking and renegotiation of 40 years worth of trading arrangements, legal directives and god only knows what as we remove the lid from another can of worms.
I think I’ve had enough, and I doubt I’m the only one.
Phill McCoffers – Islander April 2019