The no-deal Brexit culprit: COVID-19 or Johnson?

2020 has been, by no doubt, an unprecedented and tumultuous year for British political society. The spontaneous shockwaves of the pandemic are certainly still being felt; previous Brexit concerns that monopolised everyday political conversations and headlines have certainly been mitigated in these last few months. With no-deal on the horizon and EU-UK trade talks faltering, questions arise as to whether no-deal is a major concern, or rather is it inevitable? 

Brexiteers argue that COVID-19 displayed the perceived threats that Brexit posed which were largely trivial and peddling to the perceived narrative of ‘Project Fear’. These threats include the risk of severe labour shortages — especially in our local farms — and the risk of rotten crops due to Brexit related labour shortages. COVID-19 certainly highlighted our reliance on overseas labour markets but also highlighted our ability to create a nationally cohesive campaign to fill such jobs ourselves. 

Such COVID-19 upheaval has also revealed a clear British resolve to a significant threat by its people.

The highly successful ‘Pick For Britain’ campaign with notable patrons such as HRH The Prince of Wales, saw heavy waves of young and old, furloughed, employed and unemployed workers flocking to the fields to pick a variety of British fruit and crop. Although one could argue that such a wave of volunteers was more as a result of those furloughed and employed securing another flow of income, this should not mitigate the fact that the British labour force ultimately adapted to a significant shortage, which is, in my eyes, a splendid achievement. Similar worries of Brexit brinkmanship — including the perception of miles of lorries lined up for miles down the Kentish M20 — have largely been forgotten and overshadowed by the post-COVID-19 upheaval. 

Such COVID-19 upheaval has also revealed a clear British resolve to a significant threat by its people. Throughout history, the United Kingdom has demonstrated this fervour, patriotism, unity and social cohesion. Such British tenets have manifested themselves this year with the momentous celebration of our fantastic NHS and social workers, with astounding philanthropy thanks to astounding figures such as Captain Tom, the weekly Clapping for Carers, to our socially distanced VE day celebrations. The bitter and quite frankly toxic political divisions of 2019 and early 2020 were put aside, for the greater national effort of battling COVID-19. No wonder so many compared it to the stoic and united spirits of the Second World War. Such spirits ultimately fostered a heavy sense of optimism. The political pessimism of Brexit and its perceived threats have arguably been replaced with renewed optimism and stoic resolve to rebuild the nation’s economy, and ultimately paving the way to a brighter and more dignified future.

the debate has been radically changed in a mere period of sixth months; a deal may eventually be met

In this sense, Brexit has arguably become more tolerated due to its inevitability. I have spoken to many who would continually support remain but would rather want to mitigate its effects rather than its outright cancellation. The electorate’s worries have shifted largely from a potential no-deal to emphasis on post-COVID economic stimulus and rebuilding our partially closed economy. The Government, too, certainly embrace this inevitability, utilising their current political capital to mobilise Eurosceptic forces within the Conservatives for a rallying crescendo for a no-deal; eying such an opportunity within the chaos of post-COVID-19 rebuilding. 

Many Eurosceptics have criticised the EU’s response to COVID-19, and COVID demonstrated yet another crack in the EU’s fledging and lacklustre structure. Back in March, EU member states were shutting their borders en masse without any meaningful consultation with the Commission and the EU political apparatus. Free movement was already being shunned upon by member states for quarantine reasons, and that national government had to ultimately take the initiative to tackle the virus, with arguably minimal intervention by the EU’s central authorities and its respective bodies. This demonstrated exacerbated divisions within mainland Europe that many Brits see yet another positive for Brexit.

With no-deal potentially on the horizon, and Johnson’s preference of a no-deal instead of a transition period extension — perhaps COVID concerns have largely overshadowed the once loud and crescendo concerns of Brexit as a whole? Subsequently, the debate has been radically changed in a mere period of sixth months; a deal may eventually be met. Though, uncertainties remain, and only time will tell. The post-COVID-19 fallout, however, has demonstrated that a no-deal Brexit is not just likely, but inevitable. 

By David Moore

Illustration: by Rachel Cottrell 

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