On Thursday, the EU and the UK confirmed that a post-Brexit trade deal has, in fact, been reached. The rumor was in the market on Wednesday.
It took “just” four and a half years. Let’s take a step back to reflect on what, at times, devolved into a Monty Python-esque odyssey of the absurd.
Four and a half years ago, a narrow majority decided that Britain should leave the European Union. “Brexit” was presented as a “movement,” but if a movement centers entirely around one overarching goal, there needs to be a plan both for achieving it and also for managing whatever fallout might ensue.
Think, for example, about the US invasion of Iraq — not a “movement” exactly, but it’ll work for our purposes here. There was a goal. And thanks to overwhelming military superiority, not much planning was necessary for achieving it. There are, at most, two nations on Earth capable of successfully defending themselves in conventional (as opposed to asymmetric) warfare with the US. Iraq wasn’t one of them. So, the “plan” to topple Saddam Hussein really just boiled down to picking a time, invading, and running roughshod over a woefully overmatched army. There was not, however, a plan on what to do next. And that proved to be America’s undoing in Iraq.
With Brexit, there was neither a plan for achieving the goal nor for managing the fallout, assuming “success.”
Because a movement that centers entirely on a single goal cannot be recast or otherwise evolve when circumstances render that goal unachievable (“MAGA” wasn’t just about “the wall,” for instance), Brexit eventually became more “verb” than “movement.”
That’s when the amorphous nature and lack of planning around Brexit were laid bare. What does it really mean to Brexit? How does one Brexit? What does Brexit-ing entail? (One is reminded of Michael Scott, Steve Carell’s character in the American version of The Office, “declaring” bankruptcy.)
Assuming you can answer those questions, the next thing you have to ask is this: Once one Brexits, what happens next? If Brexit is a verb, you have to retire it, because you can’t Brexit twice. If Brexit is a movement, it’s over, because the goal is achieved.
While proponents will vociferously claim that the spirit of Brexit lives on or that important issues of sovereignty haven’t been resolved, they should’ve thought about that before they rolled up every grievance into one complaint (EU membership). Because now, if Brexit is a movement, it needs to be rebranded and recast. The “Br” is still there, but the “-exit” is done. Or at least a deal has been struck to facilitate the exit.
The deal is done. pic.twitter.com/zzhvxOSeWz
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 24, 2020
So, that’s where things stood Thursday, as Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson held separate press conferences to announce the trade accord. Johnson said he aims to see the deal put to a vote in the House of Commons on December 30. EU ambassadors in Brussels will apparently convene on Christmas to review the deal. The European Parliament won’t vote until 2021 on the accord, so it will be implemented on what amounts to a provisional basis on January 1.
There was still more than a little uncertainty around how smoothly the transition will go, and nobody should expect analysts or economists to give the divorce agreement any kind of ringing endorsement. Especially not when COVID-19 continues to disrupt trade and travel in Europe.
While this may avert a chaotic, recriminatory scenario that would have been insult to injury at a time when the UK is suffering under an extremely acute second wave of the virus, the injury is still there. The strictest of strict lockdowns were imposed across wider swaths of England Wednesday, and a double-dip recession seems likely. Johnson on Thursday said the tougher restrictions are “necessary” and admitted the country faces “considerable pressure” from the mutated variant of COVID.
Bloomberg underscored the extent to which this yearsold debacle will bring about disruptions that, depending on your point of view, could make the whole endeavor seem like a huge mistake.
“With the UK no longer part of the EU’s customs union and single market, trade won’t flow as smoothly as before,” Joe Mayes wrote Thursday, adding that “companies will need to file new paperwork [or] their products risk being held up at the border, finance firms will lose their passport to offer services across the EU, consumers will see their rights to live and stay on the other side of the channel curtailed, [and] taking a pet dog to the continent will become more complicated.”
“Red rover, red rover, (don’t) let Rover come over.”