Back to Brexit, again
For most Brexit is old news. A messy affair that dragged on for much longer than what one would expect and its passing ultimately left a bitter taste reminding everyone that multilateralism is truly under fire in the current era. While there were many, many roadblocks and do-overs during the process, Brexit nonetheless came and went. The world moved on and the UK and Europre were left to hash out the details of their protracted divorce. For quite some time after, predictably, the UK and Europe at large were occupied with other concerns and the practical manifestation of Brexit was left as a future concern.
Now, at a time when the pandemic is causing untold damage to every aspect of society, Brexit is back on the agenda and the news cycle. A cursory perusal of headlines related to the new fiasco may confuse a casual observer. For most part, they feel much the same as the last time Brexit was relevant. Once again, the UK is threatening to walk out of the EU without a deal, once again the EU is warning the UK to not be foolhardy. Once again, the Boris Johnson Government is making a no-deal scenario sound like a win while the EU officials are trying to highlight the myriad ways that a no-deal scenario can be a very bad idea, particularly given the hard to ignore pandemic and its effects.
The whole fiasco restarted when Boris Johnson recently declared that his Government was planning to introduce new legislation to override parts of the Brexit agreement it signed in January. The British side emphasised that they are not 'overriding' parts of the agreement, so much as they are 'clarifying' them by playing on parts they consider ambiguous enough to allow for interpretation. Specifically the parts that they wish to 'clarify' relate to Northern Ireland and giving the UK more power in all the compromises that went into ensuring that no hard border would be put up between Northern and Southern Ireland. Many political figures and commentators within the UK have warned that risking a no-deal Brexit can only complicate matters with job losses and economic slumps already being a everyday problem before a no-deal Brexit further aggravates it. Obviously, the fact that such contention may threaten the integrity of the already tenuous 'Good Friday' agreement that brought peace to Ireland is already alarming enough without the additional stipulations. The EU has also warned the UK that such unilateral selfishness will cost the nation tremendously on the world stage in terms of its reputation and reliability for any future deals.
Naturally, given the timing of such agitations, many have labelled the whole effort as an attempt by Boris Johnson to turn the situation into a game of chicken, an easy way to distract from an increasingly confused response to the pandemic back home. By playing this game of chicken with USD 900 million worth of Britain-EU trade in the balance, Johnson may be holding out hope for the EU blinking first and allowing more favourable demands to be pulled through. All the same, this looks unlikely. While the EU negotiators expressed disappointment and cautious disapproval the last time around, this time it's undisguised anger and contempt. At home, the ruling parties in Northern Ireland and Scotland have also advised against such action that jeopardises too much for thin expectations of gains.
Ultimately, this is the rehashing of the old case of Britain wanting the best of both worlds as it makes its exit. It wants its independence but it also wants the sort of favoured trade agreements that it would get as part of the EU. Attempts by the UK Government to use the present scenario to escalate pressure for a favourable deal are , to say the least, unfortunate and not likely to help the situation. At a time when the possibility of famine and an economic depression that lasts for decades is becoming clearer, quibbling for concessions is not the way forward.