Brexit talks are stagnating and the consequences are starting to show
Rotten apple - image credit: iStock
There wasn’t a huge amount to do growing up in rural Fife, and sometimes as children we would hang around a vegetable processing plant, out in the fields. To be honest, there wasn’t much to do there either – you could try and sneak into the canteen or tip over a hay bale, but by far the most interesting attraction was known locally as the ‘Grot Pit’.
Don’t let the name fool you – it was more of a pool than a pit. Formed from rotting vegetables, which had decomposed until they turned into a semi-liquid, it was around the size of a small pond, but with a brownish crust which, if pierced, would reveal a lower level coloured a kind of sunburnt orange.
Kids would throw bottles into it – you had to throw hard to break the surface – and then pelt stones at the bottles to try and break them. If the wind blew the right way, you could smell it for miles.
I had forgotten about the Grot Pit. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it in years, but for some reason, as the Brexit process go on, I find my mind straying back to that fetid, semi-liquid hole of putrid vegetables more and more often.
We now have around a year for the UK to reach a deal with the EU – it will take at least six months for parties to ratify it – and the talks continue to stagnate.
The EU arrived at negotiations clearly stating that it would not discuss trade arrangements until the two sides reached agreement on three issues – EU citizens’ rights, exit payments, and the future of the Irish border. The UK agreed to that timetable and yet, over a year on, very little seems to have developed.
The fight over exit payments was always going to be tricky, but given how long they have been campaigning, the Brexiteers didn’t seem to give a moment’s thought towards what the vote would mean for Europeans who have built their lives here, or for the people in Ireland relying on the success of the Good Friday Agreement.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that the reason they haven’t come forward with a plan for EU workers or for the Irish border is because they never had one. Ireland wasn’t and isn’t a priority.
Meanwhile the prospect of a ‘no deal’ outcome looks more and more likely. And even if the UK Government will not release its reports on how Brexit will hit different sectors in full, the consequences are beginning to show.
The vegetable plant back in Fife relies heavily on EU labour, and it won’t be the only business getting worried. As Nicola Sturgeon put it, speaking at the Royal Highland Show: “EU workers are important to virtually all parts of the modern farming industry – from the laboratories of our research institutes to the fields of our fruit farms.”
She added: “Scottish agriculture, and Scotland more generally, has benefitted enormously from freedom of movement. So as things stand, there is still a real danger that the UK Government will abandon something which is good for Scotland – membership of the single market – in order to restrict something else which is good for Scotland – freedom of movement.”
That was back in June, three months after Theresa May triggered Article 50. Nothing has changed since.
Of course there is still time, and maybe the PM will force a breakthrough on the first three parts of the first stage of the Brexit talks. Or maybe Scottish agriculture will be fine without EU workers.
To this day I still don’t know what exactly was in the Grot Pit. I have an idea, but then some ideas aren’t worth thinking about too much. After all, we didn’t need to know what it was to know we shouldn’t jump into it head first.