Brexit: what the hell happens now?

Of all surgical procedures, perhaps the most difficult is the separation of conjoined twins. For one thing, it is rare: even the top specialists will perform such an operation only a handful of times in their lives, each with its own unique complications.

Before taking up their scalpels, the surgeons will undertake a detailed and extensive survey to determine, as best they possibly can, the interlinking of the two circulatory, nervous, lymphatic, and other bodily systems, and how the various vital organs are shared. Their verdict may then be that separation is simply impossible. Otherwise, they carefully plan their strategy, before heroically embarking on a medical marathon, a gruelling test of skill and endurance — one that is still, despite their delicate efforts, fraught with terrible risk.

That is one approach, at least. Another is to grab an electric hedge-trimmer and get it over with in a couple of minutes.

This is the Iain Duncan-Smith School of Surgery. Which brings us to Brexit. Like it or not, over the course of 40 years, the UK’s legal, administrative, and commercial systems have become enmeshed with those of the EU, in a substantially deeper way than many commentators yet realise. A myriad interdependencies now extend to every corner of our country. No-one in history has attempted to unpick a web of such complexity. How can it be done? Where should we make the first incision? Where are the danger-points, the arteries we must avoid at all costs? How long will it take? Answering such questions is the goal of Ian Dunt’s book “Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?”.

The book is no rehash of pre-referendum arguments, nor does it rehearse the soap operas within the rival campaigns. Rather, it is about the present moment: a succinct, readable synopsis of hundreds of thousands of pages of technical reports, currently careening around the panicked corridors of Whitehall. Dunt has (presumably) not read all those documents, but he has spoken with a range of experts, and is able to provide an authoritative summary.

I couldn’t have imagined, six months ago, voluntarily reading any book spending more than a few lines on the subject of tariff-rate quotas. But there is a certain grim entertainment in Dunt’s revelations of elephant traps within the fine-print of international agreements, and the remorselessness with which problems proliferate.

A major takeaway is how, as things stand, Brexit is set to fail, even on Leavers’ own terms. We are leaving, they say, to trade more freely, and rid ourselves of red tape. Well then, shall we remain within the Customs Union (where we are unable to strike our own trade deals)? Or exit it (and encumber every exporter to the continent with border checks and a mass of accompanying paperwork)?

We are leaving, they declare, in the name of democracy. But Theresa May’s Great Repeal Bill will usher in decades of government by statutory instrument: laws changing and vanishing with zero Parliamentary oversight, simply with the swish of a minister’s pen.

We are leaving, they roar, to make the UK a great, sovereign nation once more! But Brexit is endangering the Good Friday Agreement, empowering Scottish Nationalists, and gifting new leverage to Spain over Gibraltar and to Argentina over the Falklands. The country may tear apart.

Unperturbed, the government seems to be reaching for the hedge-trimmer, and getting ready to do its grisly worst. Dunt’s book contains essential knowledge for all of us determined, at a minimum, to continue making our voices heard, even as we get splattered.

It is excellent news that copies are now on their way to every law-maker in the country, courtesy of a successful crowd-funding campaign. At some point in the next 24 months, gardening tool will pierce skin, and the reality of Brexit will start to bite. If our politicians know what to expect, they will be better prepared to staunch the flow of blood, to wrestle the weapon from the maniac’s hands, and to limit the appalling damage to the health of the nation.