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Brexit Diaries: swimming with icebergs

December 28, 2020

I’ve never been one for cold-water swimming. At least, not in my advanced years. When I was a kid, I would happily jump into the sea on family holidays in north Wales. A couple of minutes and the water’s lovely. But now? No thanks.

I do, however, have a family member, just a couple of years younger than me, who’s so crazy about cold water that she has a contraption in her garden, bigger than a bath but smaller than a proper pool with jets at one end that enable her to swim without moving forward. Any opportunity she gets to jump into the icy waters of a lake or river she gleefully takes.

It seems that when you first immerse yourself in freezing water you nearly die of shock. But over repeated immersions you get used to it and it becomes, lord help us, a source of joy. Not to mention good for you in some bizarre way.

So, it appears to me, it has been with Brexit, though joy is unlikely to be the end result, nor any apparent benefit. When the nation decided that we should leave the European Union in 2016 the shock, to me, was equivalent to being chucked into a hole cut into a frozen Finnish lake. Except that there was no sauna waiting on the shore to warm me up. Year after year I’ve ranted and raved about all the things that we would lose as the result of the decision. Things more fundamental and intangible than the loss of a pet’s passport. A sense of belonging, of community, of being more than the citizen of a small island.

Every time my hopes were dashed that we might be able to reverse the decision through a second referendum or a general election, it felt like being plunged back into that hole in the lake. And, of course, with every plunge the cold didn’t seem so traumatic. The reason was that I was becoming resigned to the inevitable. Until 2020, that process was gradual, and while it happened I couldn’t forget the false promises made in 2016 by leavers like Johnson and Gove, who told us about sunlit uplands, membership of the single market and customs union, regaining sovereignty and taking back control. Having our cake and eating it, in other words.

I didn’t believe them then, but enough people bought the bullshit to swing the vote in favour of leaving.

Now we have a deal. Those old promises are being relentlessly recycled by die-hard remainers to remind us how far this deal falls short of what we were promised, yet nobody seems to care. The dominant feeling is of relief that we shall be spared the consequences of no-deal in the midst of a pandemic.

Of course, as the Sun might say, it’s the pandemic wot won it. Lockdowns, mass deaths, fear, loneliness and national depression have dulled our sensitivity to what is being done on our name in order to leave the European Union. Life could hardly be more crap than it has been over the past year, could it? The coronavirus has put into the shade all the negative consequences of Brexit, and led us to a dull acceptance that any deal is better than no deal.

Would we have been much better off if the virus had struck a Britain that had opted to remain? Unlikely. But what COVID has done is to blur any vision, good or bad, that we might have of the future. As members of the EU, we might have thought that we could look forward to a communal future in which the damage caused by the pandemic would be shared with our fellow members.

But now the future is doubly uncertain. We don’t know how our relationship with the EU will unfold, and we don’t know what the post-COVID world will look like. On Brexit, my favourite Brummie lawyer, David Allen Green, who posts a daily tweet on the legal aspects of the process, speaks thus:

Brexit has ended not with a bang, but with this whimper of an agreement Which means, in turn, Brexit has not ended – and will never end. Brexit will now be an everlasting cycle of negotiations and renegotiations from a UK position of structural weakness. What a waste of time.

Lord Adonis, a Labour politician, added:

Fully agree with this assessment. This isn’t a stable trade deal… this is a rolling, patchy framework designed to be incomplete on services & manage fights over divergence with some aggressive (nuclear) options. It is a framework for ongoing battles – and all to EU advantage.

They may or may not be right. Only time will tell. But it does amaze me that Boris Johnson had the nerve to present his deal to us as his Christmas present, as if, in the middle of a catastrophe, we should be grateful for being saved from a further catastrophe that would have been of his own making. We are being manipulated.

It would be wrong to blame Johnson for all the ills that COVID has brought upon us. But we should, objectively and subject to the rule of law, hold him and his government to account for their actions this year, particularly in terms of the speed of response, the unachievable promises, the lies and possible illegality around the procurement of PPE. That examination will have to wait until all the facts are known, assuming they’re ever allowed to be known.

Brexit, however, is on him, and on us, who allowed it to happen. I hope we make a success of it, though I fear that if we prosper over the next few years it will be despite rather than because of leaving the EU. Most likely we will never know, because only on Twitter and in the mind of Donald Trump do parallel universes exist for us to visit and find out.

But at least we’re all now used to the joys of cold-water swimming, because with each immersion the memory of that first jump into the frozen water fades. We’re used to it, even if we don’t actually enjoy it.

The best you can say is that, to borrow a phrase from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, we’ve become comfortably numb.

  1. Yes but comfortably numb is really scary. It allows our fantastic politicians “Carte Blanche”.

    • Certainly does. But we’ll wake up sooner or later, though maybe too late. S

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