During the drive back from the workshop near Oxford, the pundits on the radio were arguing whether the government should reveal, for the sake of transparency, what it considers state secrets, and whether revealing them would compromise Britain's position in the negotiations with the European Union over Britain's exit from said Union. Like almost everything that has happened in the UK since that fateful day in June, this discussion is a bit bizarre.
It is bizarre because a deal for the exit of the UK from the EU has been laboriously negotiated over the last year and a half. The negotiations are now over. A deal has been agreed on. It's up to the British parliament to ratify it and sever for good the ties that many were not happy with. That many fewer consider this deal a good one is beside the point. Negotiations end in compromise – or they end in tears.
When it comes to Brexit, the idea of compromise is not popular in the UK. Those who voted against leaving the EU still don't want to. Those who did would rather cut all ties, whatever the cost, rather than remain, in whatever way, associated with the EU and bound by its rules. The leavers, as they are called, talk of sovereignty and strong borders and control over their own affairs without foreigners' interference.
Bizarre then that one of the sticking points during the negotiations was the Irish border, which the UK doesn't want for fear of upsetting those in Northern Ireland who identify as Irish – and the smooth flow of goods. The latter is of course one of the key principles of the customs union that's at the heart of the EU. Bizarre that the idea of strong borders loses appeal as soon as it is to be put into practice.
The border issue is actually trivial to resolve. There are three options:
- Stay in the customs union.
- Hand Northern Ireland over to the Irish. Whether they'd want to pay for its maintenance is a different question, but it would be in keeping with the Olympic spirit. In the Olympics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland competes as Team GB – as if Northern Ireland had nothing to contribute. Unifying Ireland would risk upsetting those in the North who identify as British. It might be construed as democratic, though. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by 11 to 9.
- Build a strong border.
It's really not that difficult.
It wasn't difficult from the beginning, and yet the process is drawn out, unclear and unresolved. By the time my flight back to Zurich was ready to board, the parliamentary debate hadn't ended. Even if it had, the Brexit saga would go on.