We’ve been playing this game for over three years now, and few of us have enjoyed it. The game may or may not end tomorrow, but at least we’re closer than we’ve been.
It says a lot about our parliamentarians that many of them are bitching about having to go to work on a Saturday. Indeed, what’s national sovereignty compared to a relaxed weekend with a mammal of one’s choice?
Now, what do we call leaving without saying good-bye? The English talk about ‘French leave’, thus putting the blame for such rudeness squarely at Gallic feet. Not to be outdone, the French put the boot on the other foot by calling it filer à l’anglaise, ‘English leave’.
(A propos of nothing, the same linguistic ping pong is played with a certain contraceptive device the English sometimes call ‘French letters’ and the French capote anglaise.)
Every ‘Brexit deal’ mooted so far has introduced a new idiom: ‘EU leave’, which is saying good-bye without really leaving. Now what about the deal our MPs, still reeling from their ruined weekends, are going to debate tomorrow?
There are only two respectable stances on this debate, one typified by Boris Johnson, the other by Nigel Farage. Those who want to scupper Brexit, deal or no deal, can be contemptuously dismissed on more grounds than can be even listed here.
The Boris view is that, though the deal he has negotiated with the EU is a compromise, it’s the best compromise we’ll ever get. The Nigel view is that the proposed deal amounts to taking EU leave.
The Boris view is more pragmatic; the Nigel one is more principled. My view is that they are both right, and I hope this sitting on the fence won’t cause lasting genital damage.
Boris Johnson has every reason to be proud: he has achieved in three months what Mrs May failed to do in three years. Johnson’s superior human qualities apart, this difference is due to their positions at the starting blocks: Johnson actually wanted to leave and May didn’t.
However, his deal (dread word) has strong elements of ‘EU leave’ about it. First, there’s the question of Ireland.
Mr Johnson’s deal is different from Mrs May’s in that the hated backstop will now apply to Northern Ireland only, not the whole of the UK. That means that, for all economic purposes, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU, while also being able to benefit from whatever windfall is expected to boost the post-Brexit British economy.
I don’t find the positives of this arrangement instantly persuasive. Effectively this means that different parts of the UK will have different customs laws, thereby defying the traditional definition of a united commonwealth. Next thing we know, Scotland and Wales will demand the same status, and they’ll have a point.
The argument against having a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is that it would jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement, concocted by the combined efforts of two spivs going by their diminutive names, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
Good riddance, I say. The Good Friday Agreement represented abject surrender to mass murderers. It elevated thugs like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to the status of statesmen and members of Parliament – which they had tried to blow up. At least they were honest enough to decline that honour.
Of course, neither hypostasis of Boris Johnson, politician and journalist, would ever be able to enunciate such a thought this side of a boozy Bullingdon Club reunion. The Good Friday Agreement has been elevated to secular sainthood, and an auto-da-fé awaits any heretic.
Then there’s the Level Playing Field clause of the proposed deal. Without getting bogged down in detail, it means that Britain will have to continue to abide by EU social and environmental regulations, no matter how perverse, which usually means very.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole economic case for Brexit wasn’t just acquiring the freedom to sign our own trade agreements, but also getting rid of the EU red tape tying our businesses hand and foot.
One understands why the EU crammed that clause down Britain’s throat: their own competitive position getting shakier by the day, they don’t want Britain to undercut them on regulations.
Yet there I was, thinking that Brexit was supposed to strengthen our competitiveness, not tie us forever to the apron strings of the unaccountable, unwieldy EU bureaucracy. It’s partly the millstone of regulations that’s dragging both Germany and France into a recession. Do we really wish to follow them, lemmings-style?
No deal is the principled position, and Nigel Farage ought to be commended for sticking to it. Let’s not forget that it’s largely his intransigence that forced that ‘heir to Blair’ into the referendum in the first place.
Farage’s view is that we should ditch Johnson’s deal and ask the EU for an extension (which Juncker said wouldn’t be granted, but then he might have been in his cups). The Tories and the Brexit Party will then go into a general election as a bloc and win a decisive majority, at last making Nigel an MP.
A new parliament of committed Leavers will vote for a clean break with the EU, and we’ll all live happily thereafter in the post-Brexit paradise. And whatever short-term economic pain we’ll suffer will be greatly alleviated by the £39 billion divorce settlement we’ll get to keep.
However, the first duty of government isn’t to create paradise on earth, but to prevent hell on earth. And that’s what the Nigel position is risking.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that our comprehensively educated masses will grasp the difference between May’s procrastination and Johnson’s extension. The Brexit consensus, such as it is, may disintegrate and the electorate may hold the Johnson-Farage bloc responsible for the mess.
As a result, we may get no Brexit and, which is even worse, a Corbyn-McDonnell government. That’s precisely the hell on earth that governments are instituted to prevent.
I can’t calculate the odds for and against such a development – I don’t think anyone can. But let’s assume that the likelihood of such a disaster is no more than 20 per cent. Would you risk the survival of your family on such odds? I wouldn’t either, and neither should we accept them when the survival of Britain qua Britain is at stake.
Hence, wincing from both physical and moral pain, I climb off the fence. The possibility of such a hellish outcome is too great a risk to take. If I were an MP – perish the thought – I’d vote for Johnson’s deal.
Then, letting the dust settle after a year or two, we’d be able to decide which parts of it to keep and which to abandon. With apologies to Shakespeare, some deals are more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
Yes, I know that would be dishonest, but do let’s be consistent pragmatists, taking our cue from Messrs Machiavelli, Burghley and Talleyrand – especially if Marx and Trotsky are looming as the alternative.