We are witnesses to the last days of the United Kingdom’s experimental contribution to the European ideal – or not, possibly. And yet, I can’t help thinking that all the hype and drama about whether or not a Brexit deal will get done in the next few days or hours misses the point.
The Brexit deal was only ever going to represent a written statement that would set out the main lines for a long-term relationship. The intention was always to get to “an agreement to draw up an agreement”, a proper, comprehensive one and one that was as mutually satisfactory to all parties as possible. And don’t get me wrong, I still believe that it would be extremely helpful: it’s always better not to start from a blank piece of paper.
Let’s imagine for a moment that some sort of rabbit gets pulled out of a hat and the Ireland circle is squared, among a few others. Can we collectively wipe our brow and exclaim happily “Gosh, that was close!” Of course not, there are years of complex, nitty-gritty and often fundamental issues to sort out. It simply isn’t a question of “Sod any deal, let’s get on with it, let’s do business and run our own show”. Instead, there will be a multitude of practical problems that will require effective solutions. How will the France-United Kingdom borders operate in practice? Who will be negotiating tariffs with whom? (Hint, the 27-strong European Union is more than likely to act as a single bloc) Will Molton Mowbray pork pies mean anything outside the UK?
The discussions are going to happen. The question is, will this whole process end up lasting decades and turn into a sort of stalemate, with constant sniping, backtracking and going over the same ground? Or will some attempt be made at something that is thought through and helpful?