A serious danger is growing that the British Government and Parliament have become so obsessed with their convoluted views on Brexit that they have lost sight of the goal: to get the best deal possible.
The EU doesn’t care about the House of Commons having a “meaningful” vote on the outcome of the negotiations. To Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, the wheel is no longer in spin. The game is over and the house has won. Brussels isn’t interested in going back to the start if the talks fail. There is no one – no one – from one end of Europe to the other who is willing to pretend that Article 50 can be stretched like a guitar string until it finally snaps.
To Europe, all the parliamentary machinations of recent weeks – increasingly a parody of procedure, with endless clauses, sub-clauses and “understandings” – are nothing more than a bad joke. Worse than that, they are an irrelevance. The UK has made its choice and now it must live with it. If we don’t understand that, we understand nothing.
Talk of “crucial votes” and “damaging defeats,” either in the Lords or in the Commons, don’t resonate with Michel Barnier and his team, save as further proof that the British have lost the plot and haven’t a clue how to extricate themselves from the hole they have been digging for themselves for the last two dismal years.
I have said it before and I will say it again: Europe has moved on. The EU has much more important issues to resolve, not least migration, the government of Italy, the rebellion in the East and the future of the eurozone. Brexit has slipped so far down the agenda that it has become invisible. Britain’s own news organisations may be filled with the antics of Dominic Grieve, Nicky Morgan, Kier Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn. On the other side of the Channel, the drama hardly registers.
No wonder Barnier is already turning his thoughts to what he will do once next March 29 rolls round. He has done the job he was hired for. If only the British had done the same.
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It’s not that the our resignation from the EU doesn’t matter. It does. But the costs and the consequences have already been factored in. We are at risk of becoming yesterday’s news. More than that, we have become an embarrassment.
Three courses remain open to us. The first is that we agree to remain in the single market and customs union, most obviously through the European Economic Area; the second is that we don’t and revert to WTO rules. The third is that we beg for readmission on something like existing terms and pretend that the whole leaving Europe business was nothing more than a bad dream.
Failing these, we could, of course, hold a second referendum. But consider how that might go. It could easily be a replay of the first, in which case we would sink even deeper into the mire. Or – who knows? – it might produce a win for Remain, leading to years of bitter infighting, constitutional stalemate and demands for a best-of-three decider.
Why would the 27 be interested in that? It’s not as if they don’t have better things to do. If the Government wishes to stay in the EU, it has to say so and live with the consequences, which would almost certainly include a commitment to join the euro within five years and to accept, over a similar period, the whittling away of our much-prized budget rebate.
Brussels is in no mood to play Mr Nice Guy. Nor does it have to. And why should it? It holds the whip hand and is looking on with mounting impatience, and incredulity, as our politicians play one round after another of silly buggers.
It is time for Britain to get serious and close the deal. Can David Davis do that? I doubt it. The man is done. He’s finished. We need someone who knows what he – or she – is doing. Either that or there should be yet another general election, with staying in or getting out of Europe as the only issue up for grabs. But can you imagine the ramifications of that? It doesn’t bear thinking about, especially if your name is Theresa May.
This is what we have come to. As a country we are like a World War II bomber that has been shot to pieces and is coming in to land on a shattered airfield on its one remaining engine. Will we make it? Will we survive? And are there enough replacement aircraft out there that will enable us to get back in the fight? We can only hope.