Anyone else getting deja-vu?

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly past.

After all the hoo-ha over whether we should pay half-a-million quid to have Big Ben chime the moment of the UK’s departure from the EU, after all the celebration parties and the candlelit vigils, I’m surprised  there hasn’t been a movement to change the way we mark the date. Thus, I write this at Six of the Clock on the Fourth Day of February in the Year of Our Boris 2020 PB – Post Brexit. Actually, there’s probably someone somewhere who’s suggested that, it’s daft enough.

 Can I really bear to write any more about politics or Brexit or where the economy is going for a while? No-one really seems to know what’s likely to happen: the Prime Minister is adamant that the UK won’t have to adhere to any of the EU rules and regulations in order to agree a decent trade deal with the remaining 27 countries,  Michel Barnier is equally adamant that it will have to. I’m surely not the only one experiencing a screaming case of deja-vu?

We have spent the last 42 months arguing over what the UK will and won’t have to do/pay/agree to in order to maintain access to the lovely lucrative European markets and all their open wallets. 42 months, after which, it appears, the UK electorate had had enough and just voted for the bloke who seemed most likely to do something, anything about it. Anything at all.

Yet, here we are again, still arguing over the details. However this time, we have an even tighter deadline than we had before. This time, the Government is absolutely determined that the period we now find ourselves in, the Post-Brexit transition period, will not be extended beyond December 31 this year. The end of December 2020 PB, if you like.  This time they mean it. They really do. Honest.

It’s still not going to be easy, regardless of what old Boris says. Any agreement isn’t going to be signed off over a handshake, a pint and packet of crisps in a Whitehall pub. The remaining 27 countries will have to instruct their negotiators so proper, formal talks are unlikely to start much before next month. Given that it could take a couple of months to get any agreements signed off by all 27, it’s probably not going to be a long protracted period for the actual negotiations to happen so whatever we end up with might be rather basic. It is, of course, in the EU’s interest as much as it is in ours to sign off on a trade deal that works for both parties. But since when was that an indication that stuff would actually happen?

This transition period isn’t just about economics either. Trade is one thing, a very important thing, but pan-European security is important too: the UK police need to be able to access information about organised crime and criminals across the EU.  And vice versa too, let it be said. At the moment they still can. Fingers crossed this isn’t one of the things that gets lost in the hubris and chest-puffing.

Food too is something that needs to be sorted out. I don’t mean whether we will still be able to get Spanish blueberries in February (and there’s an argument that we really should be eating more seasonally). Do we want our fresh food to have to be opened and checked at every point it enters the UK? Probably not, as this will cause delays and play havoc with those best-before/use-by dates on the Sainsbury’s shelves.

All these points and more need to be sorted and signed by the deadline date, otherwise everyone, Remainer and Brexiteer, will start to wonder whether any of it was worth it in the end.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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