LONDON—“There is a complete meltdown going on here,” Stephen Castle, a U.K. correspondent for The New York Times and a veteran journalist who has been based in Brussels and London for more than a quarter century, told me during another hectic week in Brexit Britain. “It’s a very slow-motion and incremental one, and that makes it harder to bring to light.”
For even the most seasoned analysts and reporters, Brexit has proved to be a political labyrinth. It’s a tumultuous moment for Britain—perhaps the most tumultuous to befall the country since World War II. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is rife with extreme political and economic consequences. And yet, nearly three years of complications, crunch weeks, and crises later, Brexit remains seemingly impossible to understand. For the journalists tasked with covering this story, decoding and untangling Brexit has been particularly challenging. Keeping it comprehensible for audiences, both within the United Kingdom and around the world, has proved even harder.
In many ways, Brexit has the makings of a perfect story. There is intrigue, high drama, and an ever-changing cast of characters. But it also has other aspects that are far more difficult to convey: things such as “three-line whips,” amendments to amendments, and British parliamentary procedural rules dating as far back as the 17th century. For the reporters who cover this story, making sense of it all can seem like an insurmountable struggle. Several London-based journalists who report for both foreign and domestic audiences told me that it can feel like a never-ending one, too. Their challenge has wider implications: If journalists cannot fully explain the implications of a seminal moment in British society, how then can Britain’s populace fully grasp it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, across the country there remains a fundamental discrepancy in public understanding over what Brexit means, how it should look, and when it ought to happen.