Whisper it quietly, but the Hotel California of Brexit may just be nearing some sort of conclusion. Or, if not an absolute conclusion, then at least a really big milestone that will move us into a completely different era of UK-EU relations.
This is because all the talk in Westminster is that a free trade deal between Britain and Europe is close. Within days type of close. In fact, the Government is preparing to clear the decks of Parliamentary business to pass the trade deal through Parliament perhaps as soon as next week.
And if they do achieve a deal, the Government will, with some justification, feel they have proved a lot of people wrong. Eleven months is too short for the transition period, we were told. No trade deal in history has ever been done that quickly, others shouted. We’re heading for the cliff-edge of No Deal, most agreed.
Well all those voices were wrong, and an agreement is incoming although the terms of that deal are quite another matter. Alongside the expectation of an agreement, there is also a widespread expectation that the deal will have been achieved by the UK conceding a lot of ground in the final stages of negotiations, as well as kicking the can down the road on sensitive areas like fisheries. Ironically, the people who are most likely to be concerned about some elements of the deal are the hard Brexiteers, for whom reaching this agreement – which Remainers said was impossible – ought to be some sort of victory.
Whilst the debate about Britain’s role in Europe will never truly end, signing a free trade agreement will at least signal the end of the national trauma over Brexit that followed the referendum in June 2016. Never in modern politics has an issue been so divisive and so polarising. And it’s not just political parties that have been torn apart by the issue, but families and communities too. It has cost two Prime Minister’s their jobs, but was the making of the current incumbent in Number 10.
Yet Brexit ends with more of a whimper than a bang. Because it is not even the main item on the news anymore. Instead, it’s a sidebar to a pandemic that kills hundreds each day, and perhaps gives us pause to reflect on whether we were really focussing on the right things this whole time after all.