“Will-they-won’t-they” has been a familiar refrain for much of this year. When the headlines weren’t being dominated by coronavirus we had our old friend Brexit to fall back on and either cheer or commiserate, or care very little about. It has now been four-and-a-half years since the referendum in which the UK voted to leave the EU by a thin margin. It’s been just under a year since the UK formally withdrew from the bloc and just weeks before the UK could crash out without a trade deal, reverting to WTO rules and bureaucratic chaos.
Yesterday’s potential-train-crash-avoiding deadline for reaching an agreement fizzled out with yet another anti-climactic extension. And so we limp on with the same equal measure of uncertainty and fatigue. You can, of course, understand why EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and member states’ leaders don’t want to bend too much. The first rebellious child to leave home early will always serve as an example to others. And anyway, they’ve often been more accommodating than some of the UK’s more right-leaning newspapers would let on. The UK has also changed its mind along the way or thought that it could have its cake and eat it, then been surprised when the EU grumbled.
But what does the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson (pictured on left, with Von der Leyen) actually want? Sure, he has to appease a Vote Leave supporter base, as well as both cabinet members and backbenchers who only have eyes for “sovereignty” at all costs. Even now, at the 11th hour, he’s playing both sides. We’re told that gunships are ready to protect the UK’s fishing waters but also that “the UK certainly won’t be walking away from the talks”. Enough talk and trying to sugar-coat a so-called “Australian deal” (which, in fact, wouldn’t be a deal at all). The UK public deserves to hear it straight. Because how is anyone supposed to prepare if no one really knows what is going on?