Theresa May says: ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ What she’s not telling you is that Brexit means bugger all.
Not only might we never leave the European Union, but even if we do not a lot is actually going to change.
Can you imagine the chaos if it did?
There’d be border checks with queues stretching into the Irish Sea, car insurance that doesn’t apply south of Dover, and remortgaging every five minutes just to pay your mobile roaming charges.
Nigel Farage needs all those things to work properly if he’s to carry on driving to Strasbourg every week for the next three years to tell his fellow MEPs how much he hates working with them.
So you can bet your last shilling that if even the most rabid red-trousered Brexiter doesn’t want too much to change, it probably won’t.
So will anything? Let’s consider the facts.
Not only was our new Prime Minister not that keen on Brexit to start with but it’s competing for space in her in-tray with jihadis, keeping the country’s lights on, and ensuring Michael Gove never again sees the light of day.
Brexit is not top of her to-do list. It’s not even in the top five.
Then she gave the difficult, detailed and devilish job of handling Brexit to Boris ‘Shagger’ Johnson, David ‘Rebel’ Davis and The Disgraced (to give him his full title) Liam Fox.
And if all three of them make it past six months without being embroiled in a scandal of some sorts you can roll me in oats, spank my bum and call me Mrs Flapjack.
Giving Boris an air miles card and entry to countless ambassadorial drinks receptions is akin to giving the man his own rope factory.
Fox will no doubt be taking his best man into international trade talks and meanwhile, Davis is so dense he seriously suggested Britain will be able to have a trading market ‘ten times the size’ of the EU. That would mean, as the EU currently supplies 16% of the world’s GDP, Britain somehow has to start selling goods and services outside the solar system. It’s perhaps a little much to ask of Richard Branson when he’s yet to leave orbit. So she hasn’t given the job to people likely to make a success of it.
And the really tricky part is the small stuff.
The EU, depending on who you believe, is responsible for somewhere between 13% and 65% of UK law. That includes Acts of Parliament, rules laid down by ministers in statutory instruments, and adopted EU regulations. You can’t just have one Act of Parliament that repeals everything with an EU fingerprint on it, because we’ll need to keep some of it. Everyone would still want clean drinking water, food labelling laws, and biometric passports. We will at best have to rewrite those rules so the legal authority for them is British rather than European.
And never mind the internecine system of cross-border checks and balances which mean we can be fairly confident we’re not eating horsemeat – at least until AFTER we’ve finished the doner.
Other things will be argued about vociferously before we can agree whether to keep them or ditch them, such as whether we all want to keep the working time directive, our climate change targets, and the banking rules brought in after the 2008 crash.
For all of that a mountain of legislation will have to examined by legal experts. Some will need to be amended rather than ripped up, and for every tweak we’ll need to pass a new law.
Each change will have to pass through both houses of Parliament, two select committees, a report stage, and finally get Royal Assent in a process that even at a dead run takes a year.
You can’t do a million at once so you’re looking at decades. And you can’t hope to get them all through Parliament smoothly with a government majority in the Commons of just 12 (pending deaths) and a Lords where Tories are outnumbered by almost 3 to 1.
Added to all of that is the high probability of the biggest legislative programme a British government has ever seen leading to cock-ups, some of them catastrophic.
The usual safety net to stop them getting on the statute books is an effective Opposition, but at the moment the Labour Party is too busy chewing on its own entrails.
It needs only one or two dire mistakes – perhaps something as minor as changes to child car seat regulations somehow leading to something more serious, like infant deaths – for the public mood to swing against Brexit.
It won’t matter if it’s human error, clerical oversight or sheer incompetence. Cock-ups will be made, and they have the potential to cause tragedy. That’s before you start thinking about how to subsidise farmers, support scientific research and whether to spend that £350m a week we never sent to the EU on teaching Boris maths or ethics.
We need standardised car seat regulations. We need the EU passporting scheme for our financial services industry. We want to use our driving licences on holiday. Yes, we can decide all these things for ourselves with Brexit, but if they end up the same as before Brexit what was, frankly, the bloody point?
We’ve been part of European institutions for almost 60 years, and whatever the rights and wrongs have been it’s part of our national life. No-one – Nigel, Theresa, the dog down the road – wants much of that to change.
The best that Theresa can hope for as an outcome of Brexit is that we leave but our daily lives are much the same.
But for that to happen Brexit has to overcome the varied hurdles of not being very important to the Prime Minister, the attentions of the Three Buffoons, 400 lawyers, dozens of trade negotiators we haven’t yet found, at least one General Election, a willfully-comatose House of Lords and the high likelihood of a Daily Mail campaign about plastic bag madness.
Anyone sane who looks at that sort of political assault course would not bet the house on Brexit happening before Star Trek becomes reality, never mind 2020.
We might want to leave the EU institutions, and we might even manage it, but seeing as we’ll have to reintroduce almost everything they stood for – except freedom of movement, and we might well have to have that back as well – it seems ever so slightly like a complete waste of time. It’s more likely while Brexit gets stuck between Boris and the House of Lords like a terrified secretary at the Christmas party the EU will collapse all by itself.
Either way, and whether we leave or linger, in 50 years’ time we’ll look back at the Brexit brouhaha and see nothing but an expensive and futile waste of time and paperclips. That is, unless you think making Nigel Farage look stupid was worth paying a few billion for.