CAUTION: This route goes nowhere

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 March 2018

This route, like Brexit, goes nowhere

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"A price worth paying" is the Brexiteers' answer to everything. But, says MITCH BENN, they've yet to specify what it's worth paying for

I had a stand-up gig in Norwich the other night, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t especially looking forward to it.

It’s not that there’s anything objectionable about the comedy club in question, or indeed anything wrong with Norwich in general; it’s just that driving to Norwich is an extraordinary slog, particularly on a Friday evening and particularly when you’re starting, as I was, from the very opposite corner of London.

I probably do more driving for my job than anyone else without an HGV licence; I’ve often said that if I were getting paid by the mile, I’d be happy to throw the comedy in for free. But it’s not the distance that’s the issue in Norwich’s case; it’s the sheer faff involved in covering that distance.

The necessity to traverse and/or circumnavigate the inescapable gravitational traffic-well that is London before you even start means it takes two hours of driving just to get yourself pointing in the right direction. And even then, the M11 only gets you halfway there before naffing off towards Cambridge and leaving you to make up the distance on the A11, which is a bit of an odd road.

For much of its length it’s basically a motorway but there are some sections where it’s hard to escape the impression that you’re driving through somebody’s garden.

In any event, the gig itself was fun and it was especially fun to work with my comedy pal of many years’ standing, Susan Murray. As we set off back towards London at about 11pm, we were at least assured of a smooth journey home, given that we’d have the roads more or less to ourselves.

That was the plan, anyway.

As it was, after about 20 minutes on the A11, just before Thetford, I hit a road closure – a frequent occurrence when driving late at night – and did what I always do under such circumstances: swore a bit under my breath and started dutifully following the yellow ‘DIVERTED TRAFFIC’ signs. On this occasion, however, these signs led me all the way back into the centre of Norwich, before abandoning me to my fate with a ‘DIVERSION ENDS’ sign.

My first thought – to swing west on the A47 and see if I could pick up another road to London – came to nought when it turned out that the A47 was closed. Nor would Google Maps be of any assistance; while it’s almost eerily accurate about traffic jams (it is tracking the phones of everyone who’s using it, after all, and can see if the cars on a given road are moving unusually slowly) it is clueless as regards road closures (something our overlords at Google Towers might want to look into).

In the end I – and Susan, who was similarly lost – ended up asking the guy behind the counter of a BP garage how to get around the closure; he showed us a simple diversion on a road atlas and we were on our way, having been set back by well over an hour and a half.

The guy in the garage explained that the confusing-to-the-point-of-useless diversion signs may have come about as a result of the area being on the ‘cusp’ of two local councils who sometimes institute roadworks without consulting, or indeed informing, each other. As such you can end up with multiple diversions on the same roads, leading drivers far away from their intended routes. When I finally got home, at about 3am, I got a call from Susan telling me that when she’d called the Highways Agency to let them know about the situation, the person who answered told her that the Agency hadn’t received any notification of the A11 being closed at all.

I bring this up partly because I felt like having a whinge and also because this incident affords us, I fear, a glimpse of the future under Brexit.

A degree of bureaucracy in society is inevitable and necessary. Indeed, it is noticeable that we only use the term ‘bureaucracy’ when it’s breaking down or cramping our style; at all other times it’s just ‘organisation’. But if we’re going to have bureaucracy, it surely makes more sense to have unified or at least interconnected bureaucracy.

Brexiteers are given to making bold statements about how, once free of the shackles of Brussels, we’ll be able to make individual treaties with individual nations, striking individual deals between individual companies and corporations rather than being slavishly bound to one overarching arrangement.

Leaving aside the question of whether we’d actually be able to get better terms for ourselves in all these individual deals than those we currently enjoy as an EU member state (spoiler alert: we won’t), the additional levels and fragmented layers of, yes, bureaucracy this is going to entail feels like a recipe for, if not necessarily disaster, then certainly a hell of a lot of hassle, miscommunication, inevitable error and massive complication.

“A PRICE WORTH PAYING!” the Brexiters cry, but again, they’ve still yet to specify what it’s worth paying for. Whenever we enumerate the deficits that Brexit will incur, they insist that the benefits will outweigh them, but never quite get around to explaining which benefits they’re talking about. Perish the thought that the only real ‘benefit’ would be ‘not having to deal with foreigners as much’, as a) that sounds a bit racist, and b) as discussed, if anything we’re going to have to spend a lot more time and energy dealing with foreign governments and entities than we currently do.

It’s a bit late in the day to expect logic from the Leavers. But it’s not too late to keep pointing this out. Resist.

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