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Brexit Diaries: wasps and black smoke

December 15, 2020

Funny really. Two days after the definitive deadline for negotiations on a trade deal, I keep thinking of strange metaphors.

The first is of the media abruptly switching focus from one topic to another, rather like wasps in late summer that follow plates of uneaten food. One day, all you can read is about goings-on (or lack of them) in Brussels, and the next day we southern metropolitan non-elite types, or rather our representatives in the media, swoop upon the news that London is going into Tier 3 restrictions. For the uninitiated, this means no communal fun, apart from what consenting adults get up to in their bio-secure zones, and all manner of other restrictions just short of a full lockdown.

To add to that, a new delight is tossed into the arena of anxiety. It seems that the rapid rise in infections in the South-East is down to a new variant of the COVID virus. Will it be resistant to the vaccine? We shall see. The boffins at Porton Down, our biological skunk works, are trying to figure that out.

This new development offers our media an opportunity to write stories about the London Variant, or possibly the Hackney Variant if the scientists are able to pinpoint the origin with sufficient accuracy. Just as the hordes of British tourists who flocked to Spain in the summer are accused of bringing back a virulent Spanish strain and kicking off a second wave, it seems that the third coming will be blamed on Inner London hipsters drinking craft beer without the aid of masks.

All of which will be the source of grim satisfaction for those parts of the country that are already groaning under Tier 3, but whose misery has been relatively underreported by the national media thus far. A reminder, as if we needed one, that whatever ills Brexit is supposed to fix, they will not include divisions between north and south. And I’m talking about England, not the rest of the United Kingdom. The wasps will always find the best places to feed.

The second metaphor, somewhat hackneyed I’m afraid, is that of the white smoke that rises from that roof in the Vatican when the cardinals elect a new pope. Or rather the black smoke that follows an indecisive ballot. For all the wisdom that has leaked out about the Brexit trade negotiations – suggestions of progress immediately slapped down, expectations furiously managed by both sides – we seem none the wiser, despite the frantic efforts of reporters to convince us that they have an inside track.

Would it not be better to lock them all up in the Sistine Chapel under the benevolent eye of Pope Francis until they come up with an agreement? Imagine – no information, no opinions, just a simple yes or no.

Unfortunately it wouldn’t work, for two reasons. First, because the negotiators are functionaries, not cardinals. Barnier answers to a herd of querulous cats. Frost answers to a lazy mongrel who in turn answers to a pack of disorderly dogs. And secondly, the cardinals have no deadline. They can argue for weeks and months in their version of lockdown. The Brexit negotiators do have a deadline: January 1, enshrined in that mutable concept we know as law.

Why, if it takes a few more weeks of yabbering, we can’t just forget about Brexit until we have a mutually acceptable trade deal, is beyond me. Yes, I know that deadlines are considered to be essential components of negotiation strategy, but don’t we have more important things to worry about at the moment? Things that require international cooperation and goodwill rather than a misplaced sense of national pride that causes our politicians to rise up like threatened meerkats?

Surely the statesmanlike thing to do, when economies and the wellbeing of people on both sides of the channel are threatened by a virus that recognises no borders, would be to call a temporary halt to these nonsense negotiations, or at least to extend the transition period by another six months?

I know that there would be howls of protest from businesses at another six months of uncertainty, and that the get-on-with-it brigade in parliament would raise their usual ideological objections. But if they were a COVID patient faced with a choice between certain death and a few months lingering on the edge of life, yet with the prospect of a full recovery, I wonder what they would decide.

I think I know. We must continue to face reality, which is that in an era of political dwarfs, the only people who show anything like statesmanlike qualities are women, and even they, Merkel and Ardern notwithstanding, are in short supply.

But enough of these florid metaphors. I must stop before I turn into Boris Johnson.

From → Politics, Religion, Social, UK

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