Christmas UK
Millions have cancelled their Christmas plans due to the coronavirus pandemic and new restrictions Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/Gulf News

Be careful what you wish for. Always look on the bright side of life. Those nuggets of sage advice were often offered up by my mother. The grass is always greener on the other side. Good things come to those who wait. Time is a good healer.

Clichés perhaps — but maybe there’s more than a bit of sound advice on all those little phrases that are trotted out when it seems as if people want to seem wise, knowledgeable or quite frankly can’t think of something better to say.

And right now here in the United Kingdom, where the darkest day of the year coincided with Britain being cut off from more than 50 countries, the English Channel and Irish Sea ports shut down, thousands stranded and sleeping rough in cars, vans and lorries, and thousands of trucks parked up on the side of southern England’s motorways, lay-bys and even a former Second World War fighter base being turned into parking.

So much for a Merry Christmas indeed.

But with Brexit negotiations over a future trade deal between the UK and the European Union in the balance with barely a week to go until the 11-month-long transition period ends, this bleak and truly dystopian pandemic shows just what is around the corner for Britons. It has brought Dickensian misery. And yes, like a scene from A Christmas Carol, it is a harbinger of Christmas future to come. Brexiteers truly should be wary of what they wish for.

Most wonderful time of the year

This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Tell that to the French truckers, Polish plumbers and Lithuanian tradesmen curled up in their vehicles waiting for coronavirus tests to be able to board a crowded ferry and do their mad dash across the continent to be home for Christmas — if only in their dreams.

On the darkest day of the year, the UK’s transport minister Grant Shapps, happily made a series of media appearances in London of course because his handlers heading down to Dover wouldn’t be able to control what might happen in front of real people — real angry people. It was all going rather smoothly he said, the government had contingency plans in place for months for such an event.

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Yes, indeed it had. That’s called Brexit. And it’s exactly the type of congestion, confusion, anger — and choked chaos at ports — that the government in London expects.

Just let that sink in for a moment....Now imagine you’re trying to run a company under the worst economic downturn in more than three centuries and operating in the most challenging conditions since the Second World War and this miasma of misery is wilfully heaped up you as your try to buy and sell your goods to market — and pay the wages of your workers and the bills from your suppliers, keep the lights on and keep the taxman happy. Yes, this misery is government policy. Brexit.

Long, long ago, when coronavirus took hold of economies around the world through the days of March, the UK government still had more than three months to advise Brussels that it wanted to extend the transition period beyond December 31. The Withdrawal Agreement hammered out between the UK and EU meant that either side could request an extension by June 30, pushing the leaving day out for another 12 months. Both sides would need to agree to the measure, and Brussels asked time and time again for the date to be moved.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure who didn’t.

A mutant stain in the UK

No one could have known then how this pandemic was to unfold. And no one — not even the most maddened science fiction screenwriter — could have predicted that the virus would mutate and spread as is currently rampant here in England. How ironic it is that the mutant stain should be focused across south-east England — where most of the Channel ports are.

By the last week of June, Britain’s economy had slumped by 10 per cent and medical experts were warning of a second wave just weeks away. Barely a month later, a quarter of England’s population were in the strictest restrictions in place then. By September, according to the government itself, officials were aware there was a mutant strain out there. By October, half of the UK was under Tier 3 restrictions. By November, a second national lockdown was fully in force across England....So, what do you think of December so far?

And throughout all of this, with crowded hospitals, an ailing economy, the worst peacetime crisis in modern history, tens of thousands dying and millions not knowing how they were going to survive and care for families, politics was at play. London was still trying to work on Brexit. That might give all of the Brexiteers a nice warm fuzzy feeling, but for too many others, it’s a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach.

And this chaos right now, in the middle of this mutant pandemic, in this Christmas season that’s lonely, dark, desperate and despairing, is just a taste of what’s to come. The grass isn’t greener, there’s no silver cloud but yes, everything happens for a reason. How pitiful is that?

Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe