Deals and deadlines

 It was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,

When is a deadline not a deadline? When it’s a Brexit negotiation deadline it seems. Last Sunday was the deadline. Last Sunday was going to be the final stand when all would be sorted. Except it wasn’t. Talks were extended, even though everyone had said they wouldn’t be. It rather out me in mind of  that line that a former boss of mine used to quote: “I love deadlines. I particularly like the whooshing sound they make as they fly past”.

All good journalists know that there is no inspiration like that which comes from a looming deadline. The Prime Minister, in a previous life, earned a crust as a journalist and maybe that is where he learned to hone the leaving things to the very last minute then pulling it out of the bag skills which have been very much in evidence at the Brexit talks. Oh, wait. The skills which very much haven’t been in evidence at the Brexit talks. My mistake.

Still, the fat lady may be humming the first bars, but she hasn’t sung yet. There is still time. Although not much of it.

We are in, it is I believe fair to say, an unholy mess.  Some of it is of our making, some of it is not. We had a deal that the EU was happy with. Although, some would argue, why should we be having to please the EU when we should be dictating term to them? But anyway, it was called Mrs May’s deal. The problem  is, it was neither one thing nor the other. It was, it turned out, too Remain-y for the hard-line Brexit MPs and too Leave-y for the hard-line Remainer MPs. So, it got nowhere. In fact the only person who did go anywhere with that deal was Mrs May herself. All the way out of the Downing Street door and onto the 4.50 from Paddington back to Berkshire.

Would we be in the position we are in now if we hadn’t had all the too-ing and fro-ing during the first two years following the referendum? Who knows? Would we still be worrying about the no-deal scenario and the fact that my part of the world is going to be chock-a-block with lorries all waiting to get through Dover if we had just got on with leaving back in 2016? The died-in the wool Leavers will say yes, the died-in-the-wool Remainers will say that they did warn us.

It seems to me that all the Gina Miller court case and the hoo-har over the prorogation of Parliament (who even remembers what that was about now?) and the snubbing of Teresa May’s deal did was extend the agony. We’ve been talking about Brexit for four years, yet Michel Barnier pointed out the other day that negotiations had only been ongoing for nine months. That might seem ample time to get a deal sorted but when you think how many trade agreements are tied up with our membership of the EU and how many countries have to sign off on any agreements, it’s no time at all.

If there is a last-minute deal, you can be sure of one thing. Boris Johnson will claim it as his victory over the EU. He will be triumphant in his assertion that British sovereignty was maintained in the face of the EU’s capitulation.  And the EU will be equally strong in its narrative that it was the strength of the remaining members that won out over British intransigence (trans: pig-headedness). No-one is prepared to lose face over this. And that, has been one of the problems all along.


Apparently, lorries will need one of these if they are to pass through Kent once the UK leave the EU. It’s a Kent access pERMIT. See what I did there?



About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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