The world will continue to turn but do not be complacent about no-deal departureby Tom Clark / November 12, 2020 / Leave a comment
There are times in politics and in life when it is best to take a step away from your problems, set them in a bigger picture, and see them as no more than, in Harold Macmillan’s glorious phrase, “a little local difficulty.” There are other moments when doing so veers into denial, as when James Callaghan sauntered back from an international summit and castigated reporters for taking “rather a parochial” view of the unfolding Winter of Discontent, earning him the deadly headline: “Crisis? What crisis?”
Looking at the four years of Brexit wrangling, a dash of the Macmillan nonchalance might not have gone amiss. Strange and unfamiliar passions coursed through the nation regarding Britain’s relations with the European Union, previously an abstract and technical question about which only cranks could muster much emotion. We might all have done better to remember that the world would continue to turn irrespective of this deadline being missed, or that “meaningful vote” going down. After all, nothing changed when we did at last formally leave the club in January, and everything that’s happened since has reminded us that the world has bigger problems than Brexit—from a deadly pandemic to a US President openly seeking to thwart the smooth running of a free election (see Sam Tanenhaus).
But here’s the thing. We are now weeks away from the end of the transition, the moment when “leaving Europe” moves out of the domain of legal theory and into the realm of practical fact. And while there are bigger problems around—most notably the virus—they are only going to make the disruption harder to handle. To adopt an Olympian attitude at this point looks less like a Macmillanite correction for earlier obsessions, and more like Callaghan-style complacency. And yet the truth is that few of us, including those running businesses and other institutions that will be directly affected, are giving much thought to precisely what changes kick in at the year’s end.
Esteemed Brexit experts Jill Rutter and Anand Menon join forces to remind us that—however the Brussels trade talks go in the coming weeks—we have ended up with a very hard Brexit. A year ago, the collective yearning in relation to…