Scenes from Brexit past – so as to keep the impending Deal ‘triumph’ in perspective

Christmas  Eve, 2020

Today political and media supporters are hailing as a triumph a Brexit agreement few of whom have read and many will probably one day disown.

It is now a familiar ritual.

And as Christmas Eve is a time for ghost stories, here are some scenes from Brexit past.


First let us go before even the referendum.

It is late 2015, and the then prime minister David Cameron and a team of negotiators are seeking a ‘deal’ – a supposed re-negotiation that would be the basis for victory in a referendum expected to take place in 2016.

But the re-negotiation was a failure – though that too hailed by some at the time – and was hardly mentioned in the referendum campaign.

And – as this blog has set out previously – the wrong lessons were drawn from that deal by Brexiters, who believed demanding more things loudly was a deft negotiation technique with the European Union.


We now go to the days after the referendum result, in the summer of 2016.

The governing Conservative party were in the midst of a leadership election – and the winning candidate asserted that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

The European Union were, around the same time, putting in place negotiation priorities and strategies that would mean that they were ready to start negotiating by the end of that year.

The United Kingdom, in contrast, had no plans or even articulated idea of what it wanted out of Brexit when that new prime minister made the departure notification in March 2017.


We now move on to the middle of the following year, where Brexit secretary David Davis promised ‘the row of the summer’ over the sequencing of the Brexit negotiations.

The ‘row’ lasted only days, as a far better prepared European Union got its way completely on sequencing.


And now we go to December 2017 where the European Union accepts that there has been ‘sufficient progress’ in the talks and enters into a ‘joint declaration’ with the United Kingdom.

This joint declaration contains delicate but significant wording on the issue of the border in Ireland – wording which many political and media supporters of the government do not appreciate at the time or do not take seriously.

That joint declaration is hailed by those supporters anyway.

Brexit is getting done.


We finally move on to December last year, where the Conservative party win a general election on the basis of an ‘oven ready’ withdrawal deal negotiated by the current prime minister.

That deal was, of course, hailed by political and media supporters of the government.

But months later, the United Kingdom government resorts to proposing legislation that would empower ministers to break that same ‘oven ready’ deal.

That legislation was hailed by political and media supporters of the government.


There are many more such scenes from Brexit – you may now be thinking of others.

Some of these ghostly memories may be forgotten by the cheerleaders of the government.

But they have certainly not been forgotten by the European Union.

That is why the deal is likely to have strict provisions on governance, as the United Kingdom has consistently spooked the European Union in the conduct of these negotiations.

So when the deal is finally unwrapped its contents may horrify the political and media supporters of the government who are currently hailing it more than any ghost story.

And that may be a scene of Brexit yet to come.


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17 thoughts on “Scenes from Brexit past – so as to keep the impending Deal ‘triumph’ in perspective”

  1. Astute as ever. Thanks for your words over the past year – always helps to have a forensic view of the nonsenses that we have been through.

    I think we can safely predict that this deal will be one which reduces the UK’s sovereignty (we will be rule taking), gives no additional freedom to strike trade deals, makes trade with the EU highly frictioned (more paperwork), but is better than no deal and will be extremely unpopular with Farage and his associates.

  2. The then Irish government recognised in early 2016 the implications for Ireland and the Border if the referendum were lost. They did a lot of preparatory work, including discussions with the EU Commission, resulting in the prominence of the Border in the subsequent negotiations.

    1. While the UK government, following the lead of the Leave campaign (and alas also the Remain campaign) failed even to notice that the UK has a land border with the EU.

      When it did notice, we got gems such as Johnson saying it wasn’t an issue because you can cross between Kensington and Hammersmith without passport checks, Rees Mogg suggesting Irexit, Patel wibbling on about starving Ireland into submission and Davies talking about the internal border.

      Utter incompetence, arrogance, ineptitude. While Ireland got the other EU countries all lined up behind it, thus proving the power of the EU and increasing Ireland’s sovereignty.

  3. A perceptive piece. It’s easy to forget how ham-fisted the UK government has been in its approach to Brexit, and in its conduct of the negotiations. I imagine we now have an imminent deal which, in truth, will not really please either side when all its details are understood, but still much better than “no-deal”, also known, risibly, as “Australian arrangements”.

  4. Thanks David – your unpicking of all the arcane workings of this tedious process has been invaluable. Have a well-earned break over Xmas if you can. Thanks again, Ean

  5. Yes, the Ghost of Brexit Past indeed resembles the Ghost of Christmas Past, as your musings illustrate:

    ” ….. what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness.”

    1. And I meant to add Christmas greetings to you, David, and my thanks for your guidance and help throughout this most dismal of periods.

  6. Thank you, David, for your excellent analyses and commentaries throughout the year, which I look forward to far more than to any decision or commentary whatsoever from any of the lot of self-seeking, short-termist, meddling, willfully-stupid, unkind, boring, inept, unquestioning and embarrassing miscreants currently in power.

  7. Am I the only staunch Remainer that has a No Deal at the top of my Christmas gift list? Any ‘deal’ at this point will be trumpeted by Boris as the success that Leave promised. No Deal followed by realisation by the 52% (maybe 42% by now) that we had by far the best deal within the EU is the only hope in the near future of re-entry to the Customs Union and Single Market both of which were deemed essential even by Leave in the referendum campaign.

    1. No, you’re not. But as it will take years for us to re-enter the EU, and as the limitations of this deal will soon become apparent, I’d rather less harm at the moment. We have so much at this moment to deal with that any easing of pressure is better.

    2. No, plenty of like-minded people here in Norn Iron.

      We are now waiting for Irish reunification to bring us properly back into the EU. It’s recognised that the staunchly DUP are now a major driver of this. Strategy was never part of their DNA.

      Farmers are very unhappy with seed potatoes which can’t be ” imported” from Scotland. It’s big business here.

  8. I doubt that any deal which is actual and specific can live up to undeliverable fantasies of ‘absolute sovereignty’.

    Season’s greetings to you, thanks for all your writing and congratulations on your University appointment this year.

  9. Thank you, David, for all your work in helping to guide us through the fog of mendacity. And seasons greetings.

  10. Seven days until we leave the EU, and a puff of white smoke –

    Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
    habemus pactum!

    And what is this deal you ask? Some bits and pieces from the EU website:

    “On 24 December 2020, EU and UK negotiators reached an “agreement in principle” on the text of a new “Trade and Cooperation Agreement” to govern their relations now that the UK has left the EU. Both parties must now advance with the signature and ratification of this Agreement in line with their respective rules and procedures, with a view to its provisional application as
    from 1 January 2021.

    … the Agreement does not cover any decisions relating to equivalences for financial services … [or] possible decisions pertaining to the adequacy of the UK’s data protection regime, or the assessment of its sanitary and phytosanitary regime for the purpose of listing it as a third country allowed to export food products to the EU. These are and will remain unilateral
    decisions of the EU and are not subject to negotiation.”

    Agreement in principle, provisional application, financial services excluded. So, what is included? When can we see the full text?

    Some politicians, journalists and lawyers are going to have a lot of reading to do. Merry Christmas, all!

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