Brexit: Ian McConnell: There’s no laughing matter as uncertainty reveals lack of leadership:

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DURING a turbulent weekend dominated by robust alerts from, among others, Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson about a new Covid 19 strain capable of spreading even faster, the overzealous rush of the British government to exit the European Single Market seemed increasingly bizarre.

And reckless and opaque more and more. That the prime minister seemed to laugh on Monday when asked whether or not there would be a no-deal Brexit seemed utterly incongruous and fully expected at once, considering the utter ignorance of this government on that front.

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While many countries in mainland Europe, including France and Germany, have moved in recent days due to the latest strain of coronavirus to briefly close their borders to citizens and traffic from Britain, the U.K. Trying to reach a tight future trade deal with the European Union has persisted. It is not long until the bizarrely self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.

From the point of view of households and enterprises who do not prepare for what will happen at the end of the year, this eleventh-hour Brexit drama is utterly inappropriate. The massive publicity campaign of the government imploring corporations to plan to exit the European Single Market is sounding more and more like satire. Meanwhile, there is a lot of talk of food shortages with the French border closed to escorted freight from the UK and with the UK’s imminent withdrawal from the Single Market already causing congestion at UK ports.

Households and businesses will feel the protagonist in “The Castle” of Franz Kafka as they try in vain to understand what post-Brexit relationships the UK government authorities plan to offer. They have been unable to get nearly enough details about what is happening to make plans anywhere for so long. It is because, in this case, the U.K. Even though Mr. Johnson promised a “oven-ready” Brexit agreement more than a year ago, before his victory in the general election last December, the government itself doesn’t know.

On Sunday night, the First Minister of Scotland made an obvious, common-sense argument about what was going to happen with Brexit. It is an argument that, while obvious to individuals who perceive Brexit without the red-white-and-blue glasses of British nationalism that many Leavers wear, the British Cabinet evidently does not. Of course, the Cabinet was filled with Brexites after Mr. Johnson’s election victory last December.

Ms. Sturgeon tweeted, “It is now imperative that the PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period. The new Covid strain – & the various implications of it – means we face a deeply serious situation, & it requires our 100 percent attention. It would be irresponsible to make it worse by Brexit.”

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the British government has had enough opportunities to extend the transition period which has enabled the country to stay in the single market since the technical Brexit on 31 January. With their Brexit blinders on, the Johnson administration has gone out of its way to make it clear to our long-suffering EU neighbors that in no conditions will they do so.

Sadly, despite a horrific global pandemic, this stubbornness has also held true. And this week, Mr. Johnson has reiterated the stubborn stance, even as the UK is dealing with Covid 19’s escalating woes.

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The EU has consistently emphasized that the timetable set by the United Kingdom must operate with it. In post-Brexit talks and that, despite the coronavirus pandemic, it would have been able to prolong the transition era.

Last week, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier made the point again.

He pointed out that it was the United Kingdom that agreed on the “deadline” and reiterated that the EU would have been prepared to extend the transition period to next year in order to continue the talks.

Mr. Barnier told the European Parliament, “Whether they should go with a deal or without, it’s still the British who decided on that deadline.”

The talks are proving extremely tortuous, although the Johnson administration is extremely tortuous.

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