Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Image: Freddy Mavundla

By the time Wanted is out, we should know how the next act in the drama that is Brexit is playing out. The end date, which was supposed to be 29 March, has been moved. The UK hasn’t worked out what it wants and, by 25 March, the European Commission had concluded that it was likely that the new deadline, 12 April, would pass without a deal, resulting in a chaotic “no-deal” scenario with “significant disruption for citizens and businesses”.

And it will have come about because the UK spent almost three years arguing among itself, and failed to reach a united view, leaving no time to negotiate with its partners in the EU. It’s ironic that 27 nations were able to agree on a stance, while one country couldn’t do the same.

Before the UK decided in June 2016 to shoot itself in the foot and exit the world’s biggest and richest trading bloc, it gave little thought to the implications. Very few people expected former prime minister David Cameron’s gamble to backfire as spectacularly as it did. Even the politicians who campaigned for Brexit were left shell-shocked.

Only then did the long internal debate, which should have taken place before the referendum was called, about what form of Brexit the country wanted start. Some people were keen to stay close to Europe and advocated the “Norway model”, which allows the country full access to the EU single market. The problem with this is that Norway makes significant contributions to the EU budget and accepts rules that are unpalatable to Brexit supporters, such as free movement. And it has no say in setting these rules, so it is hard to see this arrangement as being equal to what the UK gets out of full membership.

Very few people expected former prime minister David Cameron’s gamble would backfire as spectacularly as it did. Even the politicians who campaigned for Brexit were left shell-shocked

On the other hand, there were those who proposed a clean break, which would see the UK crash out of the single market and customs union. The problems with this are obvious. Where before you had frictionless trade, you could now see trucks delayed at the border with France, and important treaties lapse.

Brexit would also create havoc in Ireland, requiring a physical border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which could threaten the peace and undo the gains of the Good Friday Agreement of the late 1990s that ended a decades-long conflict.

The last time I visited the UK, the country had not moved much and it was still the same old. Less than a month later, Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing to present parliament with pretty much the same deal with the EU that MPs had rejected in January. She tried and got the same result. Amazingly, she was still clinging on to the hope of getting a third vote.

All this might give the impression of a country in a mess. But being there, and dealing with their civil service, makes one envious. I was shocked to discover that someone would not only answer the phone at Her Majesty’s Revenue Office on a Sunday, but would also help you get your tax affairs in order in a matter of minutes. For all its faults, the country works and will likely be fine in the end. But that doesn’t explain why someone would jump off a building and break their leg, for no good reason other than that it could be fixed one day.

• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.

From the April edition of Wanted 2019.

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