So, this is it. After formerly arguing that the chances of a no-deal Brexit were “a million to one”, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has now asserted that the outlook of obtaining a deal is “touch and go”. A no-deal Brexit appears to be firmly on the cards.
Evidently, Johnson’s time is running out. With only two months to negotiate a deal, Britain’s new Prime Minister appears somewhat unfazed by the mammoth task placed before him. As ever, performing the role of the bumbling buffoon, Johnson manages to hold both his opponents and the public in a state of anticipation. Yet, as was the case with two of his predecessors, the ill-fated Theresa May and David Cameron – who remains conspicuous in his absence – Johnson lacks a key leadership credential: patience.
Over the past three years, one sentiment has stood out amongst Remainers and Brexiters alike: “why don’t they just get on with it”. This country is an impatient one, especially regarding politics. The emergence of super-fast broadband, next day delivery, and instant messaging, appear to be symptomatic of a wider issue; a culture of impatience has become pervasive amongst the elected and the electorate. We expect results directly and are quick to express our disappointment, anger or disillusionment when time is required to achieve the desired result.
To recognise the patience required for such a critical undertaking as Brexit, observe our entry to the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. We applied in 1961 and joined, over a decade later, in 1973. It took over 11 years for us to enter; now with the added complications of 46 years of membership, our three-and-a-half-year goal becomes ambitious. It is a sense of determined impatience which has spurred us on to this point, teetering on the edge of a no-deal Brexit, starved of the time required to see us obtain a managed and sensible exit.
This phenomenon has been an underlying theme throughout the Brexit debate. Roll-back to 2015 when David Cameron – becoming exasperated with the question of Europe – decided to pledge a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in his manifesto. The former Prime Minister’s eagerness to solve the enduring burden of Conservative party leaders gradually grew into exasperation. Nowhere is this reality more palpable than in his choice of method. A binary referendum, as I have discussed in a previous column, was a rushed, irresponsible choice, which lacked nuance and offered little space for essential debate and discussion. Cameron’s impatience got the better of him.
The arrival of Theresa May at No.10 offered new hope for a more measured, sensible and deliberated approach to the question of Europe. Regardless, these hopes were dashed by May’s pig-headedness and inability to overcome the impatience of her Eurosceptic backbenchers. Her decision to invoke Article 50, before establishing a method to lead the country towards a negotiated exit, once again demonstrates an assured lack of patience. Offered the chance to take time to develop goals, infrastructure and logistics, May’s hurried desire to deliver results wasted precious time – time that she could have employed far more effectively.
Today, we see Boris Johnson, our current prime minister, intent on getting us out of the EU by 31 October “come what may”. His leadership campaign harnessed the ubiquitous impatience which has spread throughout the country. Many are fed up with Brexit – and rightly so. What we have witnessed since 23 June 2016 has been ineffective, drawn-out chaos. Not a single member of the government for the past three years has had the patience to demand order. Now, with the mandate of those who wish to see the UK out as quickly as possible, the power of impatience has finally overcome. We seemingly no longer have the stamina to pursue a deal.
Regardless, perhaps now it is too late for politicians to be patient on Brexit. With only 65 days (at the time of publication) to secure a deal, the urgency of such an endeavour should not be understated. Nevertheless, following our official exit, we will be forced into patience, as securing a deal with the EU may still take years. Politicians must learn from the consequences of this crucial moment in British history – “patience is a virtue, possess it if you can”.