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Nothing is for ever

December 9, 2020

If and when Britain goes over the no-deal cliff, will anyone notice? Just a slightly different trajectory in the free-fall, perhaps, since we’re over the cliff already.

Had the pandemic not intervened, we would have been facing an abrupt and shocking change in fortune on January 1. But whatever happens here onwards will be inevitably be tangled up in post-pandemic depression. For most of us, it will be hard to tell what new realities will be down to COVID or to Brexit.

Or, to put it another way, when you’re wallowing in shit, another bucket-full won’t make much difference. If we do a deal with the European Union, the cake we end up with will be like one of those stale sponges that come out of a packet on the cross-channel ferry. Not appetising, not exciting, just enough to fill the stomach with empty calories.

If we don’t, there will no doubt still be a few airbags that will cushion our collision with the ground. A few single-issue agreements that will prevent us from reverting to the stone age.

Those who persuaded us to go for the dubious proposition of Brexit are unlikely to suffer too much. The ring-leaders might lose their jobs, but no longer being a minister will hardly be as devastating as losing three quarters of your income and possibly your home. Those who egged the government on from the side-lines, especially the group of MPs who ridiculously call themselves the European Research Group, will mostly continue to hold their safe seats in parliament. And the hedge fund operators who placed bets on the nation’s misfortune will be wealthier than ever.

The blame game will rage on. Few of us will escape, including those of us who opposed Brexit, who will be cursed for not trying hard enough in the referendum campaign.

But nothing is forever, except death. A no-deal Brexit would be a descent into purgatory, but there will always be ways out. A return to the EU will be difficult to sell to the British public, especially now, as our arse-covering government seeks to blame our former partners for all our misfortunes. And when an institution has been been treated to decades of demonization, it’s unlikely to welcome us back to its bosom unless there’s an overwhelming advantage in doing so.

But we will find a way of crawling out of the pit, increment by increment. A decade of pain may well force us to find different directions for our country. Greener perhaps. More inventive hopefully. More appreciative of what we’ve lost by leaving the EU, particularly in terms of movement of labour and cooperation in so many enterprises that we take for granted.

On the other hand, it’s possible that riven with envy, impoverished, socially divided and seething with discontent at our lowly status, we shall start looking like a failed state. Our brightest talent will be lured to other shores. Our obsession with surveillance will turn us into China without the energy or sense of purpose. And only the very brave will think of going into politics to fix the problems that the current generation of politicians has allowed to brew, because their reward would be the contempt of a cynical electorate.

Fear not. All is not lost. A brighter future awaits us, literally. As our climate gets warmer, our wine will get better and more plentiful. More people will want to visit us, because the south of Europe will steadily turn into desert. Once half our fields are turned into solar farms we shall be able to scoot around in our electric cars on cheaper electricity. Yes, a good proportion of our south-east coast will have turned into salt marshes, but malaria won’t be a problem because our clever scientists are on the verge of developing a vaccine.

With a bit of luck, we’ll be able to do what the Japanese did after World War Two, and recover our economy by producing cheap knock-offs of stuff invented elsewhere. Except that in our case it will be stuff like drones, vaccines, nuclear fusion devices, cryptocurrencies and industrial espionage devices. I jest, of course.

The first thing we will need to do is to understand how the world will work post-COVID. This will especially be the case in terms of education, the workplace and the economy. If we can get ahead of the curve and build an education system focused on value instead of qualifications, re-invent our inner cities so that they don’t rely on offices for their prosperity and find ways of evening up economic activity across the country, then we might find ourselves getting there faster than many other countries.

And if we can enter our new era completely shorn of our grandiose pretensions as a world power, perhaps we can also do without the means to punch above our weight militarily, which would mean giving up our nukes and much of our expensive hardware.

It would be nice to think that we can emerge from Brexit and COVID conforming to all those clichés so easily bandied about: leaner, fitter, more agile, inventive and creative.

But actually, if there’s one thing I crave which all those dynamic qualities will in not in themselves deliver, it’s happiness. Unfortunately, that might take a while. But if our future governments, businesses and other institutions proceed with that aim uppermost in their minds, it would certainly be a start.

Because I get the impression that over the past decade we’ve forgotten how to be happy.

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