Skip to content

Brexit: sound and fury signifying nothing – yet

August 22, 2017

By Jean-Léon Gérôme - : Gallery, Pic, Public Domain,

Lay a mirror on soft ground and then jump on it several times. It will fracture, yet remain recognisably a mirror. Each piece will reflect at a slightly different angle, but it will be impossible any more to see a single image with any clarity.

This, six months into the Brexit divorce process, is where we in Britain seem to be. In order to understand the nuances and complexities of each aspect of the separation, it’s getting to the point where you need a degree in Brexit studies.

Ask a politician from either of the largest parties what they think, and their answer will depend on whether they’re speaking on or off the record. Even if they’re on the record, they still don’t speak with the single voice of an agreed party line. Off the record, there are as many opinions as there are species of jellyfish in the sea that separates us from our neighbours.

Look to the political and financial media for guidance and you will be equally confused by the diversity of opinion. Ask an academic, and he or she will point you towards a learned paper that the next academic will rebut. Go to the social media and you will soon need medication for schizophrenia. We have never been further from consensus on the defining issue of our time.

As we endure another eighteen months of uncertainty, of business decisions delayed, of opportunities lost, it’s worth thinking about what might we have achieved had we not imposed this hairshirt of self-searching upon ourselves. Would our economy have continued to be the strongest in Europe, as opposed to the weakest, as it appears today? Are our diminished prospects, set against the resurgent economies in other EU countries, down to Brexit, or are we simply at different stages in a cycle?

I’m not qualified to judge. But two things are clear to me.

First, the Brexit negotiations are a massive distraction for our government and for the civil service that underpins it. We are undergoing paralysis by analysis. Brexit is sucking in resources and dominating agendas. We are in a holding pattern, unwilling to make big decisions on infrastructure, defence, education, health and all the other major aspects to which a so-called first-world country should be paying attention. We don’t even know whether we’re in austerity or whether the purse-strings are about to be loosened, so we don’t know what we can afford and what we can’t.

Second, the negotiations are proceeding as they might have done in front of thousands at the Colosseum in second-century Rome. Sound, fury and raw emotion from a baying audience, with David Davis as Maximus and Michel Barnier as Commodus in a remake of Gladiator. And yet they can equally be compared to day two in a five-day cricket match. Nothing decided, swings in momentum, plenty to play for.

While the sound and fury seems fast and furious, the actual discussions appear to be progressing at a snail’s pace, with weeks between each meeting of the principal decision makers. The clock may be ticking, but at times it resembles the newly-disabled Big Ben.

The whole exercise seems no less self-destructive than it did in July of last year. If the political will doesn’t yet exist to call a halt to it, then the second-best option would be a referendum on the terms of the negotiated package. If the deal is manifestly in our interests, and seen as such by the electorate after an informed – and I mean informed – debate, then so be it. Let’s go with it.

But if there is no deal, or if the deal that our negotiators arrive at is so full of ifs, buts and fudges that it’s tantamount to no deal, then we should be allowed to reverse the decision we originally made. This assumes that our elected representatives do not have the courage to put the interests of the country before party and personal career, and, if need be, make that decision for us.

I, and millions of others who are deeply concerned at the chaotic path we are currently treading, have no choice but to wait, watch and continue to express our concerns. I may think differently in eighteen months’ time, but I doubt it.

For what it’s worth, I’ll take cricket over gladiators any time.

From → Politics, UK

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: