When Boris Johnson clambered on his bulldozer in the 2019 General Election and chanted the “Get Brexit Done” slogan he knew what he was doing. We were Brexit weary and most of us did indeed want to be rid of the thing. So eighteen months later, and with the worrying matter of a killer virus very much still with us, it’s hardly surprising that Brexit is less top of the mind than it was, as reported in The Times today. But it is very premature indeed to think that the consequences of Brexit have gone away.
Normal politics has been pushed to the side whilst our fellow citizens have been dying all around us. Coping with the gargantuan adjustments required of Britain alone and “contra mundum” at the same time as coping with COVID-19 is a multitasking beyond many of us. One thing at a time.
Boris Johnson hasn’t yet said “Get COVID Done” but give him time. And when he does it will be no more true than his Brexit slogan. Complex things in his rhetoric have to be reduced to the binary and, of course, Brexit is far from “done”. The impediments being put in the way of British businesses by our leaving the European Union appear in the newspapers every day. And when people start to travel again the realities of the personal inconveniences of no longer having freedom of movement in Europe will hit home as well.
That Britain is becoming a pariah State in Europe and the wider world will start to dawn on us once we stop worrying about whether Granny will die of COVID. And for the surviving Grannies the fact that our teenage grandchildren face a future without the freedom to travel, work and live in 30 countries across the Continent will dawn on us as well. The Brexit “Deal” may nominally be done. Its consequences we’ve hardly truly addressed let alone resolved.
Party politics became irrelevant in the Age of COVID. Johnson and Co. didn’t mismanage Britain’s response to the virus because they were Conservatives. They messed it up because they were incompetent. That the drivers of Brexit were profoundly political you need to be a bit of a student of Right Wing politics to understand. That is why the “Leave” proponents didn’t talk about them but stuck to faux-patriotism, preposterous WW2 metaphors and references backed by downright lies.
Whether the Government will be punished for its mismanagement of COVID is doubtful. If the herd immunity strategy behind the rapid vaccination programme works all will be forgotten. When we have all either had COVID , died from it or have been vaccinated against it we can move on to other things.
Sir Keir Starmer is criticised by many for not only having abandoned opposition to Brexit but for having been mild in his criticism of the Government over COVID. In my view he had no choice. The Government plays the patriot card at every opportunity and puts out the flags everywhere. Starmer knows that among the many things that scuppered his predecessor were accusations of a lack of patriotism. He’s not going to take that risk and will himself flag wave frequently.
It’s likely that “normal” politics will not return in this Parliament. The traditional debates about the ideal mixed economy, or about taxation, education or even healthcare are parked at present and will remain so for a while. Once we are back in the pubs, the clubs and on our charter flights to Benidorm again we’ll be so grateful we won’t want political discourse to spoil things.