10th December 2020
Three photographs summarise perfectly the course of the Brexit negotiations.
Few people will claim that the negotiations for the terms of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union and then for the terms of the future relationship have gone perfectly, or even well.
Is there a single cause for this?
Some would say that Brexit in and of itself could never have gone well – that for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union was a project that would always have ended badly.
That Brexit was misconceived to begin with.
But a Brexit done slowly and gradually, over several years, with full acknowledgment of how complicated an exercise would have been possible (even if not desirable).
Also possible would have been a Brexit where the United Kingdom had properly worked out what it wanted from departure before starting the exit process.
But these things did not happen.
For me, the most fundamental problem with Brexit is not so much the principle of departure but the constant underestimation by the United Kingdom government of what would be involved in a member state unravelling over 45 years of entwined law and policy.
The task was always going to be complex, and it was not one which could be done at speed.
But those in charge of United Kingdom policy have treated the task as if it were simple – David Davis winging it, Theresa May believing it would all be as easy as when she opted in and out of European Union policy areas as home secretary, and the slogans and bravado of Boris Johnson.
Taking back control, Brexit means Brexit, get Brexit done.
Of course, the terms of Article 50 itself did not help in this respect – with its envisaged brisk two year period – but this period was capable of extension, and indeed it was extended.
There was also the somewhat artificial distinction between the exit agreement and the agreement for the future relationship, and it would have been much better if there had been one overall negotiation and agreement.
Yet even taking those process points into account, the Brexit exercise would still have been botched because the United Kingdom government had not properly prepared and thought-through its Brexit policy before embarking on departure.
Perhaps Brexiters thought – not without good reason – that any delay would mean a Brexit denied.
And so, unless Brexit was done at speed, it would not be done at all.
But a Brexit delayed and maybe not done at all would have been preferable to this botched Brexit.
The complexity of Brexit will not go away because it is ignored and the process done at undue speed – the problems will just manifest themselves differently.
Brexit will never ‘be done’ – at least not for the rest of the 2020s.
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