The closer we get to the latest ‘absolute deadline’ for a Brexit decision, the more desperate May and her team seem to be getting. How productive it is to threaten those from whom you want concessions is an interesting question. It may have worked in the ‘good old days’ of gunboat diplomacy where most of the government seem to reside (well, those who aren’t from another planet, that is), but in the world which we inhabit a small offshore island threatening a whole continent doesn’t immediately strike me as the most productive approach.
The PM has made it as clear as she ever makes anything that the iceberg must move out of the way because the majority of the ship’s crew have voted for it to be so, whilst the Foreign Secretary has told Brussels that UK-EU links could be poisoned for many years to come unless the EU backs down. All we need now is for the Defence Secretary to send a half-complete boat to Brussels to show the government means business. And he probably would if he hadn’t already allocated it to threatening the Chinese. Even the UK’s current government is likely to shy away from pretending that a complete and fully-armed boat could be in two places at once, let alone an unfinished one.
Meanwhile, the Brexit Secretary accuses the EU of rerunning old arguments, because, basically, they are still saying what they have said from the outset. But the standard advice to anyone who doesn’t want to keep hearing the same answers is to stop asking the same questions. Two plus two always equals four, and whether you like the answer or not, it’s still the answer; and given a question framed within the terms of the PM’s red lines, the EU’s response is almost as mathematical in its formulation as the answer to two plus two.
Hunt claims that the UK’s proposals are “reasonable” – and indeed they are, for anyone who still believes that it is entirely reasonable for an ex-member of the EU to continue to receive all the benefits of membership with none of the obligations. So that would be most of the cabinet then, aided and abetted by the ERG and the Labour Party. The Anglo-British not-nationalists-at-all don’t get it now, haven’t got it from day 1, and seem to have no prospect of getting it any time soon – the rest of Europe isn’t beholden to the UK, doesn’t owe us any favours, and isn’t going to dismantle the entire project to suit a bunch of jingoistic islanders whose views are two centuries behind the times.
We are in the mess in which we find ourselves not because of any intransigence on the part of the EU, but because of a government which has chosen to interpret a marginal vote for an undefined something as a clear-cut vote for a set of red lines which weren’t on the ballot paper and can’t even command a consensus amongst supporters of Brexit. And this, according to them, is then the fault of everybody except those allegedly driving the process. A twenty-fifth amendment often sounds like a good idea but finding a suitably-placed group of people with enough sanity between them to implement it is quite a hurdle to overcome.
Perhaps we’re closer than I think to such an outcome, though, with the Sunday Times reporting yesterday that some members of the cabinet are getting their best grey suits ready for a difficult conversation, perhaps as early as this week (although I’m far from convinced that it’s the saner ones who are involved). But, as the sharks start to circle, I bet the PM is cursing those who have got her into this mess:
· The fool who triggered Article 50 with no hint of a plan,
· The idiot who took away a degree of flexibility by writing an immovable end date into the legislation
· The nincompoop who agreed to the Irish backstop in December 2017
· The imbecile who suggested to the EU that the way to avoid different rules for Northern Ireland was for the whole UK to stay in the Customs Union until a new trade deal would be agreed
I’m sure she’ll have very strong words for those people when she writes her inevitable memoirs – if she can ever work out who they are.