Notes From the Margins…

On the Tenth Day of Brexit, My True Love Gave to Me

  • January 10, 2021
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It’s less than two weeks since the Supreme Leader Comrade John-Son-Un signed the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement the day before the transition period for leaving the EU expired.  Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be a Brexiter was very heaven. John-Son-Un himself, never one to hide his light under a bushel, solemnly proclaimed that his ‘jumbo-Canada-style deal’ had finally ‘settled the European question.’

The demagogue-turned-peacemaker also claimed that his deal would ‘end some of the rancour and recrimination that we’ve had in recent years, allow us to come together as a country, to leave old arguments, old desiccated, tired, super-masticated arguments behind – an invitation that can only be compared to the school bully taking his foot off your neck and allowing you to join his playground gang as an honorary member.

As always, the Tory commentariat rose in unison to hail the greatest trade deal in history, all miraculously achieved thanks to the Supreme Leader’s diplomatic brilliance at the last possible moment.  Such fun! as Miranda Hart’s mum would say, though clearly not for everybody.

By New Years Day the Tory machine was turned up to full gloat.  Where were the queues of trucks that Remainers had warned about?  Haha, they aren’t there.

Never mind that it was a bank holiday, that pre-Brexit stockpiling had already been done, that European lorry drivers were wary of repeating what had happened in December – once again Project Fear had been found wanting, or so it seemed.

Now, ten days later, the bunting has been taken down, the paper trumpets have stopped parping, and slowly but surely the UK is learning a lesson that it should have heeded a long time before: that we really do live in the material world, and political decisions based on fantasies will have real-world consequences.

On the first day of trading, £6 billion worth of euro-denominated shares were transferred from the City of London to the EU, and the same amount was transferred the following day, in what one fund manager called ‘ a stunning own goal for the UK.’

Elsewhere, UK fishermen – the same fishermen who red-blooded pescatarian patriots like Mosley-Farage and John Redwood have so often sworn to protect – also discovered that they were no longer able to export to their largest markets.  On Friday, Scottish fishermen described a ‘catastrophe’ in which their catches were rotting on the harbours because of new customs and sanitary and phytosanitary requirements that prevented them from delivering fresh fish to European customers.

Meanwhile, the road delivery company DPD UK announced that it was pausing deliveries to Europe because of new regulations, evidence was beginning to emerge that EU businesses were no longer exporting to the UK because of VAT and customs regulations,  and  £32,000 in fines have been handed to truckers leaving the UK or trying to enter Kent without the new permit.

Despite the Supreme Leader’s repeated insistence that there would be no border in the Irish Sea, it turns out that there is one after all, and that shops and supermarkets in Northern Ireland are reporting significant disruptions in supplies from the UK.

And it isn’t only supermarket and manufacturing supply chains that are affected by ‘non-tariff barriers to trade.’ Yesterday, it emerged that the UK government had declined an offer from the EU to grant visa-free access to British musicians, despite having previously claimed that Brussels ‘red tape’ had prevented this from happening.  Now it turns out that the British government rejected the opportunity to allow British musicians to travel to Europe without the 90-day Schengen visas, because it didn’t want to grant the same right to European musicians.

Consider what has happened here.  The British music industry – worth £5 billion annually – is one of the country’s greatest exports, and also constitutes one of the greatest forms of ‘soft power’ that this country has.  Yet the government actively harmed that industry – and the livelihoods of those who work within it – because it regarded foreign musicians as another category of unwanted immigrant to be controlled at the border, and then it blamed its own intransigence on the EU.

I don’t know what you call this reader, but it looks just a little scurrilous to me.  And let’s not put all this down to a few teething problems.  Some of this economic damage might be repaired, assuming – a big assumption right now – that the political will is there.  But much lost business will never return.  Yet throughout the last ten days, Brexiters have either played down the disruption or ignored it completely.

Others are up in their bedrooms playing with their chemistry sets.  On 6 January the newly-ermined Daniel Hannan – one of the most dishonest spivs in the whole Brexit scam – recommended that the UK jettison the EU’s labour and environmental protections and its tax regulations.  Using the Mens Health imagery that Tories who have done nothing much but grift for a living seem to love when making other people’s lives worse, Hannan claimed that removing these regulations would make us ‘fitter, leaner, and more globally engaged.’

And the next day the Supreme Leader himself met with 250 business leaders on a conference call and asked its participants to tell him ‘which regulations could be ripped up now that the U.K. has completed its divorce from the European Union.’

The Bloviator-in-Chief claimed that ‘firms can now look with certainty at the year ahead’ and asked for suggestions for which ‘red tape’ to get rid of – all this without mentioning the new reels of red tape in which so many companies are now entangled as a result of a TCA that they were not prepared for.

Yesterday, the government announced that it was removing another bit of ‘red tape’ that prevented sugar-beet farmers from using a pesticide containing neonicotinoid thiamethoxam – a chemical banned by the EU because it kills bees, following lobbying from the National Farmers Union.   This, only three years after the then Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised to ‘maintain and enhance’ environmental standards and implement a ‘Green Brexit.’

Promises, schmomises, and only a fool would expect Gove to keep his.   After all, this is the man who told parliament in September 2019 that the representatives of the British car industry were fully prepared for a No Deal Brexit even though the same representatives said they had told him no such thing.  Last year, Gove insisted once again that his own government was also fully-prepared for No Deal.

Yet only yesterday he warned British businesses that they  could face ‘significant border disruption’ in response to the deal that supposedly eliminated the obstacles that his government had prepared for.

It’s hard to keep up with this, and clearly Gove hopes we won’t.  No wonder business leaders met with Him last Thursday and complained of the ‘baffling’ regulations that had produced what one of them called a ‘complete shitshow.’

This is the shitshow we are all living in, ten days into 2021,  and  none of it needed to happen. Even if you believe – and obviously I don’t – that this government has been acting in good faith, it could have asked for an extension to the transition period  in order to give businesses a chance to adjust to the new post-Brexit order and ensure that systems for dealing with it were in place and working properly.

They didn’t do any of this, essentially because the Brexit ultras were afraid that any loss of momentum might provide space for the British public to reconsider.

They forced this calamity through, and now we are trapped in the world that they made, and that they refuse to take any responsibility for.  Now, it seems, we must face the double whammy of a disastrously-managed pandemic and a botched-Brexit, and feed on unicorn bones and boiled blue passports, and drink sovereign tea, while the likes of Daniel Hannan and the new business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – one of those who once argued that British workers were ‘among the worst idlers’ in the world – toy with our futures as if we were flies to little boys.

These are the Sunlit Uplands, and no one will be surprised  that Jacob Rees-Mogg has shut down the cross-parliamentary committee charged with overseeing the implementation of the TCA.

If you were this government, would you want MPs or the public looking at the impact of a ‘world-beating’ agreement that is pulling your country’s economy to pieces? Any such scrutiny might shed light on one of the most destructive scams that any country has ever perpetrated on itself.

It suits them very well to brush this disaster under the carpet of the pandemic,  and that is one more reason why we should never, ever forget what they have done or let them get away with it.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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