What the Brexit negotiators could learn from Love Island

by Andrew Anthony / 25 June, 2018
Photo/Getty Images

Photo/Getty Images

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It's been two years since the Brexit vote, when the UK surprised itself and decided to walk out on the EU like some bored middle-aged man with a sudden hankering to play the field.

Something happens to Britons in June. Perhaps it’s the effect of the summer solstice, some strange spell cast by the Druids who gather at Stonehenge each year to celebrate the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day. Or maybe it’s just the result of too much sunshine in a land that’s more at home beneath low, gloomy skies.

Whatever the reason, a shortening of attention span kicks in at this time of year, as Wimbledon arrives, the lawns are parched and balmy summer evenings are doused in Pimm’s and chilled wine.

This midsummer daze, as Shakespeare knew, can result in weird and unpredictable behaviour. Two years ago, the nation surprised itself and decided to walk out on the European Union, like some bored middle-aged man with a sudden hankering to play the field. Almost out of nowhere, Britain was more ideologically divided than it’s been since the days of Roundheads and Cavaliers – for which read Brexiteers and Remainers.

For Brexiteers, Britain was a catch the whole world was longing to date. They promised that the grass, once it was liberated from the constraints of the EU’s common agricultural policy, would be so much greener.

Two years later, after endless disputes, legislative paralysis and a divorce bill that is in the tens of billions of pounds and still rising, the nation has singularly failed to move on. Most people – Remainers and Brexiteers – are still trying to work out what’s happening. And if anyone in power knows, they’re keeping it to themselves.

A series of parliamentary votes has recently taken place that makes the situation – if it were possible – even more incomprehensible. Half the country vainly dreams of asking Europe to take us back, while the other half just wants the world to go away, as long as it leaves us with favourable trading terms.

As a consequence, almost everyone is seeking to forget what a pickle the country’s in. Fortunately, there are two major distractions – one global, the other proudly insular – to take the mind off such dismal matters. The Fifa World Cup is under way. Who cares about trade barriers if England triumph for the first time since 1966?

At the outset, England are 12-1 to win the competition. As one meme going around put it, for those who don’t understand betting, that means that if you bet £10, you’ll lose £10. Because the only thing more reliable than a premature English exit is the irrational hope that springs eternal in bruised English hearts. England aren’t going to win, but at least everyone knows what would be needed to do so – and that can’t be said about Brexit.

The other major preoccupation is a TV show called Love Island, which is like visual heroin for millennials. They sit, mouths open and brains shut, watching a merry-go-round of plucked, gym-primed, orange-baked, banality-uttering nobodies affecting to romance one another.

Yes, it’s the cultural abyss. And yes, even brief exposure to it can lower IQ. But it may offer a lesson to the poor souls charged with negotiating Brexit. No, not that they should do business in swimsuits and fake tans.

But they could look at the spirit of compromise that these walking vanity projects bring to their amorous endeavours. Even when a couple are not attracted to each other, they’re prepared to share the same bed, if that’s what it takes to become a minor celebrity in reality television.

If British negotiators want to reach their goal – whatever that may be – they will have to show the same kind of flexibility. Call it the art of embracing others without getting screwed.

In the meantime, we need a law banning referendums in Britain in late June.

Andrew Anthony is an Observer feature writer and is married to a New Zealander.

This article was first published in the June 30, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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