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Brexit and Corona

The “breaking news” from China was aired the world over in December.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The world is going through a momentous phase. The 31st of January this year, when Brexit fructified, was a landmark date in Britain’s calendar, no less historic for the United Kingdom and the world than the coronavirus pandemic. Brexit has altered Europe’s political landscape, has yielded a spectacular election victory for Boris Johnson, and has confirmed his ascendancy.

Three months after the exit from the European Union, it is painfully clear that Britain is paying a heavy price for what has been called the “Brexit distraction” as 2020 unfolded.

The “breaking news” from China was aired the world over in December.

The “positive” report that marked the health bulletin of the Prime Minister and Prince Charles is only incidental in the overall construct.

The nub of the tragedy even as the government struggles to combat the pandemic must be that neither Mr Johnson nor his senior ministers had paid sufficient attention as the virus escalated from China to the rest of the world. It is now tragically clear to Whitehall that Brexit has been accorded precedence to the human condition, indeed Britain’s greatest vulnerability.

Having endured a messy divorce, it devolves on the Conservative government to extend the phase of transition. And thus effect a historical distinction between an event (Brexit) and a phase (the process of transition). Not that Mr Johnson is unaware of the imperative; the question now uppermost in Britain is whether he has the nerve to decide on a deferment.

There is little doubt that the Prime Minister and his cabal were more eager to welcome Brexit’s dawn than with ensuring Britain’s health and social services, let alone assess whether the government was prepared and equipped to deal with the looming emergency. The general perception in Britain today is that Brexit continues to be an “unwelcome, unnecessary and damaging distraction”. Many believe it always was.

The Tory Brexiters, who were so euphoric in January, do not want to discuss it either. Even for them, Brexit has become a problematic embarrassment in the midst of the ballooning death toll. The Johnson government must be acutely aware that this is the time of unprecedented economic, financial, social and human distress. Ergo, it can scarcely afford a bout of further massive disruption to vital trade, business, investment and social security.

Fears of a second calamity are frightfully real, so far as human health is concerned. Small wonder that such a catastrophe has been likened to a “runaway train loaded with explosives”.

Ever since the referendum in June 2016, it has been a roller-coaster narrative for Brexit, at times delusory, at any rate till the third election. The scenario now is almost nightmarish. By persisting as though nothing has changed, Johnson and his team risk to inflict considerable damage to a country that is desperately struggling to survive the pandemic.