Tick, tock, tick, tock

These are the times that try men’s souls. The Summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country

I know from experience that there is no inspiration like that born of a looming deadline. Maybe that is Teresa May’s current hope regarding Brexit (henceforth referred to, Harry Potter-like, as ThatWhichShallNotBeNamed because if I type it one more time I shall scream). Maybe she’s hoping that, as we get closer to ThatWhichShallNotBeNamed day, the answer will leap out at us all and deals will be done, papers signed and all will be well.

I think Rachel Sylvester in today’s Times put it best: “Plan B is in fact Plan A: dither, delay and hope that something turns up”.  How’s that working out for you Mrs May? About as well as the plan to hold a snap general election to really hammer home your mandate? Oh.

The trouble is, everything seems to be happening too little, too late. The cross-party talks only started after Mrs May’s deal was rejected in Parliament last week. Last week! Why on earth were they not happening immediately the result of the referendum was known?

Why not? Because, you know, politics. No-one could possibly be seen to be collaborating with anyone else in case it weakens their position. Well, here’s the thing: our position is weak. It doesn’t matter that the heads of Germany’s main political parties plus leading figures from business, sport and the arts wrote an open letter to the UK telling us that they’d prefer it if we stayed but that they respected our decision to leave, we could change our mind anytime. Of course they can write that. They’re playing the bigger man.

Oh sure, we could have another vote, a People’s Vote (err, aren’t all referenda people’s votes?), but died-in-the-wool Leavers will still vote Leave and vice versa. Also, we don’t actually have anything concrete to make a decision about. It’s all just as woolly as it was in June 2016.

Jeremy Corbyn seems to think if he sulks in the other room long enough then his demand for no-deal to be off the table will be met. No-deal would be disastrous, in the short to medium term certainly, but sulking about it isn’t going to alter May’s tactics. David Cameron caused all this mess in the first place by trying to appease the hardliners in the Tory Party. It looks like Mrs May is going down the same route.

The vote to leave the EU was always going to be a leap of faith into unchartered territories, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors. Two and a half years ago.  Yes, there were hundred of treaties and agreements to be sorted out. Yes it was always going to take a long time to untangle everything. Yes, I know there has been plenty going on behind the scenes to head off the worst of the mess. But two and half years of political grandstanding seems to have got us only to the first water station of this marathon task.

Today is January 22. ThatWhichShallNotBeNamed day is March 29. 67 days.



About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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