Lax attitude to lateness means Brexit is far from only missed deadline in UK - Neil McNicholas

The Brexit deadline has already been changed twice. Photo: PA
The Brexit deadline has already been changed twice. Photo: PA

In 2016, we had a referendum to decide whether we remained in the EU or left, in one of the biggest democratic exercises in the country’s history.

The majority vote was to leave and no doubt those who voted to leave expected that we would, and as soon as possible, but we didn’t. Eventually a deadline of March 29 of this year was set and that date was drilled into our subconscious – our departure from the EU was finally going to happen on March 29. It didn’t.  

The country took to the polls for the EU referendum in 2016, but Brexit has still not happened.

The country took to the polls for the EU referendum in 2016, but Brexit has still not happened.

And so then a new deadline was set of October 31, referred to by some politicians as a “hard red line” for withdrawal, and a daily “countdown to Brexit” was maintained.  

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But with just seven days remaining that “hard red line” was cancelled and now a new deadline of January next year has been set. A deadline is a deadline and so what was the point of setting one if it was so easily brushed aside, not once but twice now?  

And why should we have any faith in January 2020 when we have seen what happened to March and October 2019?

Whether we like it or not, deadlines can be very important and for a variety of reasons. If someone sets a deadline, it’s not up to others to decide whether or not they agree with it. If they want to be involved in, or present at, whatever the deadline relates to, then they should respect and abide by it.

As a priest, I have to say that clergy are all too often the worst offenders. There will be some diocesan celebration or gathering and we will receive notification weeks, perhaps months, beforehand asking that we register by a certain date our intention to attend.

For purposes of catering, it may also involve signing up for a meal. Typically there are always those who simply don’t bother and yet still show up for the event and expect to be fed even though they didn’t have the courtesy to respond as requested. 

In recent years, punctuality seems to have become increasingly something that isn’t of concern to people, hence the use of the suffix “ish” – as in 9ish – which is immediately an acceptance of tardiness. And something having a start time of “6.30 for 7” is meant to put the time of 6.30 into people’s minds rather than 7. But it doesn’t tend to and so there will still be people arriving late even when they have had a 30-minute window to aim for.

Meetings and West End shows will often start at least five minutes late in order to allow for latecomers, but they know that and so there’s no incentive to be on time.

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Anyone who flies regularly will have had the experience of late-arriving passengers. There’s a stated time – usually 20 minutes before the flight – by which everyone is required to be on board and the gate closes, but how many times has your departure been delayed while everyone sits there waiting for late-arrivals? Such delays inconvenience other people and cost the airlines money.

Every year we have a Christmas raffle in the parish and publish a deadline by which ticket stubs must be handed in so the organisers can get them all folded ready for the draw, but every year there will be people handing in tickets late.

Would they consider it unreasonable if those tickets weren’t included in the draw despite failing to meet the deadline?  

It’s the same when we take special collections in the parish toward emergency relief following natural disasters, for example, and I announce the fact that I will be posting the cheque as soon as the money is counted given that there are people in great need waiting for help. And so the cheque will go off in the post, but then further monies will come in days later.

Human nature being what it is, some people are simply never organised, but then they have got to be prepared to accept the consequences of their lack of organisation when they miss a deadline.

If there was no reason for one then presumably there wouldn’t be one in the first place and there seems to be little point in setting a deadline if you’re not going to stick to it.

Failing to do so totally undermines the credibility of any future deadlines – a classic “cry wolf” situation.

While our cavalier politicians continue to ignore established deadlines for carrying out the will of the people expressed in the referendum three-and-a-half years ago, they should thank their lucky stars that we aren’t French or we would have had revolution over this issue after the first broken promise and failed deadline let alone the second.

Will there yet be a third?

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest from Yarm.