Will Brits end up as boiled frogs?

by Hugo Dixon | 04.04.2018

When you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps out and lives. When you put it in warm water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog never feels there is a big enough temperature difference to jump out of the water and so it dies.

The same may happen with Brexit. Theresa May is turning up the heat so gradually that it may be too late before the voters feel what’s happening.

Ultimately, the damage to our prosperity, power and pride will be big. We will lose partial access to the EU market and will have less clout doing trade in the rest of the world. That will be bad for jobs. Also, because we will be desperate to hang on to some access to the single market and to cut deals elsewhere, we will be turned into a rule taker. We will be losing, not taking back control.

But this damage won’t happen in one short sharp shock.

For a start, May has agreed a transition deal to cushion the blow. Nothing much will change for 21 months after we leave the EU, except we will lose our voting rights.

The prime minister will also probably agree the outline of a future trade pact in the next six months. But the full details won’t be clear until after we have left. If we don’t like it, by that time it will be too late.

Of course, in the process of agreeing a transition deal and the framework of a future pact, May has made lots of U-turns. We are going to pay nearly £40 billion as a divorce payment. We will follow all the EU’s rules without a say on them during the transition – during which free movement will continue. To get a future deal, we are likely to have to agree to stay in a customs union and follow the bulk of the single market rules in perpetuity, again without a vote.

If all this had been announced at the same time, the British frog might have jumped out of the water by now. But, as it is, all we can do is say: “The water is getting hotter and hotter. Jump out before it is too late!”

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    Tags: Categories: Brexit Negotiations

    7 Responses to “Will Brits end up as boiled frogs?”

    • You say “Nothing much will change for 21 months after we leave the EU, except we will lose our voting rights.” Wrong. LOTS of things will change at the end of March 2019. The transition period has application only to inter-governmental matters, i.e. terms of trade etc. But for instance, I have just reserved a hire car in France for June. Anone who does not come from an EU member country has to obtain and international driving licence. So Brits will have to after 30.03.19. A further personal anecdote, but there must be many other situations affecting other people . I shall have inconveniences relating to employment pensions from France from them moment we are no longer members of the EU. There are no doubt many other things, affecting other people, which depend on being a member of the EU. That will end on 30.03.19, whether there is a transition deal in place or not. T May and Co are not in negotiation with the private pensions companies, the car hire firms, and all the other non-governmental bodies which currently impose the condition of being a member of the EU. Perhaps you’d like to start collecting a list to point out to people.

    • She is relying on voter fatigue and general confusion to patch over whatever gaps exist between expectations and reality. Leading Brexiteers will find it advantageous to claim that the Brexit is not what they wanted so as to insulate themselves from whatever Brexit-disasters occur. They too hope to hide under this umbrella of confusion.
      Our job is to ensure clarity and to hold ALL of them to account.

    • I’m doing what I can to try to keep things off the boil, in my small way. But then again, if it is explained to frogs lounging in a warm pan that the heat will kill them, and they don’t want to hear it – what do you do then?

      Do we then qualify for a Nationwide “Darwin Award”?

      As we reject Europe and her people, and despite protestations otherwise, that is exactly what Brexit is, we will someday find that the shoe is on the other foot. If and when the economy slows to the point when young Brits have to consider going abroad to live and work, I doubt seriously that Europeans will forget our treachery. After all, America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are not easy places to gain access to and they are a long way away. There will be many negative side effects of the Brexit ‘cure.”

      But if the frogs insist on more heat…

    • If remaining in the EU is the goal, then surely the salient point is whether Article 50 can be extended. After October, parliament will have a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal, in which the Future State will not be finalised.

      If Article 50 can be extended, and parliament votes the deal down, then there’s a further vote: extend Article 50, continue negotiating, and remain in the EU for now; or cancel Article 50, cancel Brexit, and remain in the EU in perpetuity.

      If Article 50 cannot be extended, then parliament doesn’t really have a meaningful vote, and it has no choice but to approve the deal. Then there’s no hope that Britain could remain in the EU, only that it could remain in the Customs Union and Single Market.

    • I couldn’t agree more with this article. I have made similar points in my own articles using somewhat different metaphors. Brexit is operating silently, like a thief in the night, or the slow descent of an aeroplane, the passengers barely noticing:


      Another paradigm is that of the slow virus, cause of BSE and some types of dementia. At a recent medical conference some amusement was caused by the demonstration that the geographic distribution of BSE and Leave voting was exactly the same.

      Roger Liddle in the Lords has also concluded that the transition period will rob us of a reason to revolt, but is optimistic that we can rejoin the EU later.


      I am more doubtful – boiled frogs are not easily resuscitated.

    • I agree with the whole comment, except for the frog analogy. It isn’t true – a frog will get out of the water, if it has the means to, as soon as it is uncomfortably hot.

      Which of course give us some encouragement that the great British Daily Mail/Express reading public might eventually twig that they are being sold down the river by a bunch of wealthy, over-educated chancers and turn against them before it is too late.

    • Please don’t keep spreading the myth about boiled frogs – because it is just that, a myth! Not factual, dreamt up by a random person, totally untrue.