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Wardrobe
If you'd just agree to hold your meetings in here, you'd have PLENTY of time to figure things out before the deadline.
Title text: If you'd just agree to hold your meetings in here, you'd have PLENTY of time to figure things out before the deadline.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a NARNIAN-BRITISH NEUTRAL ZONE. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

This comic references The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of children's fantasy books by C.S. Lewis (some of which were later made into movies) about a group of children from England who travel to a magical land called Narnia. In the first book of the series (by publication date), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Narnia is accessible through a wardrobe. Mr. Tumnus is a faun in Narnia and the first character that the first human visitor, Lucy Pevensie, meets on her first trip through the wardrobe portal. Referencing Narnia is a recurring theme in xkcd.

The comic also makes reference to membership in the European Union (short EU, not E.U. as Randall writes in the comic). The United Kingdom (UK) is a member of the EU at the time of this comic, but voted (narrowly) in 2016 to exit the EU (a process commonly referred to as Brexit, short for "British Exit"), but working out the details of this separation has proven quite problematic.

One of the major issues has been the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The two countries share the island of Ireland, but Northern Ireland is part of the UK while Ireland is an independent country which remains part of the EU. If/when the UK exits the EU, it will have different customs regulations than the Republic of Ireland, and there will need to be some kind of customs border. The most obvious solution would be to establish a controlled land border between the two countries, but this would raise some serious difficulties and dangers.

Northern Ireland has had a long history of civil unrest and ethno-nationalist conflict. The most recent period of conflict, commonly referred to as The Troubles, resulted in over 3000 deaths between 1969 and 1998. In 1998, the UK and Ireland entered into a treaty, known as the Good Friday Agreement (overwhelmingly approved by referendums in both parts of Ireland). This treaty was intended to resolve many of the issues that drove the conflict, and has largely been successful in putting a stop to the violence. One of the agreements in the treaty was a totally open border between the two parts of Ireland. As both were in the EU, this was easily done, because they already shared a customs union. Over the following two decades, the ease of transit created major trade links between the two areas, and many people lived in one country and worked in the other. In the UK Brexit referendum, a majority of Northern Ireland voters voted to remain in the EU. Placing a hard border between the two countries would create major economic disruptions, and serious hardships for people living near the border. It would also undermine the intent of the Good Friday Agreement, which could lead to terrorist attacks and the rekindling of hostilities. The Irish government raised this issue from the time Brexit was first proposed, but their warnings were not fully heeded.

The alternative to this border would be to maintain open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but institute customs checks between the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom. This solution is also considered extremely undesirable, as it would effectively separate Northern Ireland from the UK, which is unacceptable to many citizens of both Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The portal in the wardrobe represents another border of the UK, namely the border between England and Narnia. This 'border', of course, exists only in fiction, but the joke here is that it must be dealt with in the Brexit negotiations, further complicating an already messy situation. Cueball suggests solving the situation by simply locking the wardrobe (which was never very accessible, even in The Chronicles of Narnia), effectively isolating the UK from Narnia and making the border problem moot. Problem is, if the book is taken literally, that new ways to enter Narnia pops up in every book, however, most of them are only accessible to the kids from the first book and their friends.

The title text references the amount of time it has taken to complete the Brexit negotiations, currently three-plus years and counting. The negotiators have set a series of deadlines to complete the negotiations, but have repeatedly had to extend those deadlines because they haven't reached any agreement. The comic was posted roughly one week before the Brexit deadline (Oct. 31, 2019). However it was already expected that that deadline too would probably be extended. In The Chronicles of Narnia, time moves inconsistently in Narnia, usually passing more rapidly in Narnia than on Earth. The Pevensie siblings enter the wardrobe as children, have extensive adventures in Narnia lasting many years, and then return to the real world to find that they are children again and that only a few minutes have passed. The suggestion here is that holding the slow Brexit negotiations in Narnia would take relatively little time in the real world, and the whole affair could be completed in time for the deadline.

A punchline similar to the title text, where the slower passing of time was used to take on time-intensive real world problems, was also used for one of the comics in 821: Five-Minute Comics: Part 3. The time difference was also mentioned in the title text of 1786: Trash.

Transcript

[Megan is entering into an open wardrobe, while Cueball stands outside.]
Megan: I'll go ask.
Megan: You wait here.
[Cueball stands outside the now closed wardrobe.]
[In a frame-less panel Cueball keeps standing outside the closes wardrobe, as voices can be heard from inside the wardrobe, as indicated with two small starburst from which text lines goes up. The characters talking are inferred from the context]
Tumnus (from inside wardrobe): Halt! Who goes there?
Megan (from inside wardrobe): Hey Tumnus. Quick question.
Tumnus (from inside wardrobe): Yes?
[Cueball walks away from the closed wardrobe. Voices can still be heard from inside the wardrobe.]
Megan (from inside wardrobe): Is Narnia in the E.U.?
Tumnus (from inside wardrobe): Yes, we joined after you did.
Megan (from inside wardrobe): Oh great, another border to deal with.
Cueball: I'll go find a lock for the door.


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