Two years on, what does Brexit mean, anyway?
My eldest son came in from school the other day talking about how one boy had “Brexited” another.
All was revealed in a step-by-step walk through of that playtime’s action. It turns out that, in his primary at least, ‘to Brexit’ means ‘to slide tackle someone and take the legs from under them’; in essence, to take them out. At least, that’s according to my kid’s slow-mo reenactment.
I’m not at all sure how this linguistic shift has happened, but it’s certainly (pardon the pun) striking. It reminded me of when I was at school in the – whisper it – 90s during the first Gulf War, when there was so much talk of missiles on the news that “scud” came to mean “wallop” rather than “naked”. That wasn’t just in the schoolyard either; I remember being surrounded by adults on the football terraces, talking about how one player or another had “scudded the ball” up the park like a rocket. Perhaps Harry Kane can relate.
I very much doubt that my kid’s classmates have any real analysis to make into the impact of Brexit on our economy and society, but this adoption of the term for two-footed take-downs does seem to show some understanding of this constitutional change.
This time two years ago, we were on the cusp of that change. It was December 2020 and, four years and five months after the UK voted to Leave, we were in a last-minute rush to get the job done. That’s of course what Boris Johnson had promised, telling voters he’d “Get Brexit Done” in his snap general election in 2019. “We have freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” Johnson said in his 2020 New Year address, delivered just a few hours before the ties were officially cut at midnight on 31 December.
The liberty he claimed to hold was already under question, of course, by those who lamented the end of freedom of movement, and by the businesses suddenly faced with an avalanche of Brexit-related red tape and restriction. For Scotland’s food and drink sector, 2021 opened to disruption and loss, with high-value truckloads of fresh fish and seafood consigned to rot amidst a pile of paperwork that kept produce landed in Scotland’s waters from reaching key markets in France and Spain.
Trade negotiations had themselves been hampered by the Covid lockdown, and, struck on 24 December, there was precious little time for MPs to scrutinise the terms agreed by EU and UK teams. Johnson held fast against calls to seek a continuation of the transition period, legislation was tabled 48 hours before the clock ran out, and parliament had to be recalled to pass the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill on 30 December.
It’ll come as no surprise that my big kid wasn’t watching those debates, but Brexit is having an impact on the lives of him and his classmates. A report this month from the London School of Economics concluded that additional import charges on goods brought from the EU added almost £6bn to domestic food bills by the end of last year, while the Nuffield Trust found almost 4,300 European medics had opted against working in the NHS since Brexit. Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of cost-of-living and NHS staffing crises.
Politics isn’t child’s play, but his is a generation that will grow up under Brexit. What further impacts will there be on their lives and on the country they share?