We should find out this weekend whether or not Brexit is getting postponed to January 2020, though the EU have already released a statement saying that a deal will not be possible this week and that Johnson will have to petition the EU for an extension or break the law, due to the newly minted Benn Act (in the few hours that have passed since I wrote this, chief EU negotiator Michael Barnier has now given Boris until midnight, saying that a deal this week will be “difficult but possible.” Who knows?). This suggests that we’ll be dealing with another extension, although we’ll have to wait and see, because our errant PM does have a habit of breaking the law while trying to force through a no deal Brexit. I hear more and more that people are just wishing for it to be over, ranging from people in my office to other European countries. It has always been a tactic of the Tories to emphasise their desire to get Brexit done under any circumstances, as if getting it done legally and democratically is of no concern (wait…). But personally, I don’t mind another extension. Not because I don’t want to resolve Brexit and move on with my life. Not because I don’t want the government to get back to addressing other things, like climate change and inequality and domestic violence and our underfunded healthcare system. But because… I don’t want a deal. Like, I don’t want any deal. All the deals on offer are shit.
The key sticking point of all the Brexit deals so far has been the Irish backstop, as having two places on the same landmass being part of separate economic and political areas necessitates a hard border, so that people and goods can be checked before entering the UK from the EU, of which Ireland will still be a part. However, this has so far been impossible to resolve in practice. No one wants a hard border, least of all people in Ireland, people in Northern Ireland and the EU negotiators.
So while exactly how a borderless border can exist continues to be fantasised about by Johnson and his cronies, much of the rest of the deal is not being reimagined. If anything, an incessant focus on the politics of the Irish border allows the other major questions to slip out of the general consciousness, as all the ways in which this Brexit deal will damage the UK economy also remain extremely pertinent. Some forecasts suggest that Johnson’s deal will shrink GDP per capita by 6.4%, as opposed to the prediction of 4.9% for May’s deal. The current deal is seen as goods only, or Canada minus, which will include minimal coverage of services and significant non-tariff barriers on trade. Medicine and food shortages remain likely. You can forget about freedom of movement, which has always been joyfully taken away from us. I don’t want to Brexit at all, under any conditions. As far as I can tell, every bit of credible research suggests that it will leave us all worse off. I don’t want it to happen.
And so, I welcome continuous extensions. Yes, the ongoing uncertainty continues to fill the financial markets with volatility, yes the pound is weak, yes I wish we could talk about something, anything else. But to resolve Brexit now is to accept an arrangement that will certainly damage people’s lives, through job losses and supply chain issues and forced deportation. Wearing people down with the mindlessness of it all is a strategy; it makes it far more likely that we’ll accept something subpar, just to put us all out of our misery. But the truth is that accepting anything right now will create more misery, because as stressful and tedious as these negotiations are, they will be nothing on the process of actually extricating ourselves from the EU, something we have barely begun to do. Every regulation will need to be combed through, every supply chain will have to be redesigned, every business will need to restructure. Agreeing on an exit deal is the start of leaving the EU, not the end.
I know that extending the negotiations indefinitely is not a viable long-term strategy. But we’re not done yet with the stop Brexit efforts. I want more time to try to make those a reality. The new Benn Act will prevent Boris Johnson from legally crashing out of the EU at the end of the month, a direct result of the work of anti-Brexit MPs in September. If we secure an extension until January 2020, it is highly likely that there will be a general election, and we’ll have an opportunity to elect a prime minister who wants to stop Brexit (though the Brexit politics of the opposition is its own clusterfuck). I can’t wait to head out to the next big Brexit march this weekend, which is slated to be even bigger than the last. It is not over yet. The fact that it continues to be impossible to decide on a withdrawal agreement of any kind should be proof enough that Brexit is a bad, bad idea. So far, we can’t make it work at all. And we certainly shouldn’t do it now just because we’re tired.
I suggest leaning into the uncertainty. Don’t accept a shit option just to make it all stop (partly because we deserve better, partly because an accepted deal will only make Brexit more pervasive). Don’t let the lure of a week without hearing the word Brexit tempt you into giving up the fight for a better option. I promise that it won’t feel like a relief if Johnson’s deal goes through; it will feel like a sad, resigned, embarrassing crawl over the start line, forcing us to continue in this maligned, fractured state, creating the country that we will all live in for the rest of our lives. It is worth it to hold out, to persevere with the frustration for a little longer. I don’t care how many extensions it takes. There is very real movement that continues to champion Remain, and as a deal of any kind appears to become a more and more remote possibility, I hope that that movement can move to the fore. As each week without a resolution passes, the hope grows within me. If we can’t enact Brexit, and we continue to fight about it month after month, maybe at some point, we’ll decide to stay. And every bit of research and data we have suggests that that is worth waiting (and fighting) for.