Opinion

This is what coronavirus and Brexit revealed about Brits


Published : 05 Jun 2020 08:16 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 05:30 PM

Suspend for a moment, please, your common sense. Park it safely beside reality. Believe instead in the complete cockamamie codswallop served up by Dominic Cummings to the British public last week.

The top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson only drove to a north of England beauty spot to test his eyes to see if he was fit enough to drive.

And he was only at Barnard Castle briefly while at his family’s Durham compound because there was not a single caregiver in the whole of London, a 900-km round trip away capable of looking after his child.

Besides, COVID-19 rules that he helped make are not made for him, lockdown applies only to the lowly, not the lofty. It’s Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, not the piffle of personal hardship endured by so many for so long. You do as we say, not do as we do.

Ignore too, if you will, the sheer howls of disdain that have erupted from one corner of the kingdom to every other, baying for Cummings to do the right thing, take one for the team, show honour and courage.

No. There will be none of that nonsense. Boris is standing by his man. The old school tie means more than the odd tirades of those unschooled in the excesses of elitism and exceptionalism. Britannia rules and waves and waives the rules to suit — a pandemic is no place for polemics nor the politics of decency, after all.

At the height of the Cummings commotion, one telling tweet slipped out on UK Civil Service Twitter feed: “Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?” The thumber of that erudite sentence will likely be fired when found. Cummings will keep his job.

Hypocrisy and contortionism with the truth reign supreme at the head of Her Majesty’s Government. Why else, after all, would a visually impaired man drive but to test his eyes?

This overarching attitude, this arrogance, this exceptionalism, is nowhere more evident than in the politics of Brexit. Yes, coronavirus too.

If your common sense is indeed still suspended, you too will appreciate that the entire economic chaos wrought by coronavirus — its 40,000 deaths, the 6 million more unemployed, the gaping hole in public finances present and future, the uncertainty, the fears — can be brushed under the rug at 10 Downing Street.

By the end of this month, there couldn’t possibly be any need for the United Kingdom to want to stay in transition with the European Union after December 31, could there?

Weaker European nations may have locked down far soon, far tighter than the United Kingdom. No, coronavirus would never hit Britain the same way. Britain would be an exception. And weaker European nations may be much more cautious when it comes to reopening their economies. No, Britain is exceptional after all.

There are just three weeks left for London to agree to extend the transition period beyond December. That will leave just six months then to negotiate a free trade deal with the European Union. If not, we are all back to that hard-Brexit scenario, and World Trade Organisation rules take effect on January 1.

Right now, without exception, Europe’s capitals are exceedingly frustrated that the United Kingdom is simply not engaging in any meaningful way to try and resolve any of the outstanding issues that remain — or indeed to even contemplate extending the transition period by that June 30 deadline.

Ahead of the fourth round of Brexit talks, the EU’s chief negotiator says the economic fallout from COVID-19 makes a trade deal all the more vital. Michel Barnier also accused the United Kingdom of falling behind on its commitments.

London, he warned, “has been taking a step back — two steps back, three steps back — from the original commitments”.

Barnier’s indignation might not sound so much of exasperation if he bore in mind that good old British exceptionalism means the agreement it signed doesn’t apply to it.

So far, in this tortured process, there have been three rounds of talks between the sides and a fourth is currently under way. Nothing has been agreed and, at this rate, there will be little to put on the table when the European Council convenes in Brussels with the United Kingdom to try and hammer out what happens after June 30.

Extension or no extension? Who knows — but all of the smart money would say right now that there will be no extension. Pucker up, that hard Brexit is coming.

The United Kingdom and the European Union are intent on going their own way when it comes to trade, fishery, financial regulation, the environment, health and safety, security, air transport, manufacturing standards, workers’ rights, common trading, free movement of goods — anything and everything that has affected British society these past five decades — regardless of the potential damage inflicted on the UK economy.

No. There will be no exceptions.

In the land of Cummings, where blind men drive to test their sight, all will be right. And the feeling that runs through Brussels now? Well, can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters …


Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe

Source: Gulf News