There is no way the EU in its present mood of disenchantment with the UK will give us a break. Why would it, asks Murray Ritchie.
So there we have it. We are out of the single market and customs union but we must still obey their rules. We are leaving the European Union but must be policed by it for almost a decade. The Eurosceptic Daily Telegraph, Braveheart-style, proclaims “freedom” while its former editor cries capitulation (in the same edition).
Who is right? No-one knows because no-one can tell. Making sense of the “deal” brokered by Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels last week is impossible because, plainly, it makes no sense. That is the point.
This deal is deliberately meant to make no sense, at least for the time being. It is constructed to confuse and buy time and amounts to no more than a list of vague, ill-defined, arguable aspirations. We have every right not to be impressed.
It gives everyone something, except we don’t yet know what. That is how it is meant to be – a calculated, classic EU cop-out.
During my five-year stint in Brussels I spent many tedious night-time hours in the Justus Lipsius building as those famous minute-past-midnight deadlines slipped by. When time was up the Eurocrats would employ their normal trick of simply stopping the clock, quite literally.
Eurocrats deserve their reputation as the world’s champion vocabulary despoilers. They do for plain speaking what a car crusher does for a cardboard box
These guys are still the nonpareil masters of what the diplomats flippantly call “language” – or doublespeak to normal people. They spend days and weeks torturing the language – with umpteen simultaneous translations for added mystique – as they conjure a form of words deliberately designed to be incomprehensible. Obfuscation is their stock in trade and this time they surpassed themselves.
Eurocrats deserve their reputation as the world’s champion vocabulary despoilers. They do for plain speaking what a car crusher does for a cardboard box. The mishmash they produced as another deadline was about to be missed last week was truly a masterpiece of the meaningless.
They knew it, we knew it (or at least those of us silly enough to attempt to take it seriously) but it did the trick. Mrs May claimed a triumph. David Davis, her Brexit minister, whose answer to awkward questions is always to give his silly giggle, claimed a breakthrough. Old Jean-Claude Juncker who has seen it all many times, looked as though he just wanted his bed.
The paradoxes piled up. The Republican Irish laughed all the way to the non-existent border with their Orange neighbours who are still wedded to their no-surrender fetish. Just to add to the glorious confusion, those Democratic Unionists who oppose the views of their own pro-Remain electorate have ensured Brexit goes ahead – sort of – despite the people who elected them.
The Irish, north and south, all know nothing much has changed but this has still to dawn everywhere else.
In Scotland the Scottish National Party reacted with delight. For the 75 years of their existence these “separatists” – who actually want to join Europe – have been told by the real “separatists” who voted Leave that the first consequence of Scottish independence would be custom posts at Berwick.
Now that prospect is exposed as nonsense. What is good for Dundalk and Newry is now good for Gretna and Carlisle. Scottish Nationalists have their confused Unionist opponents to thank for that. Nicola Sturgeon was quick not to miss the trick.
We can go on and on, picking holes and pointing out anomalies and fudges and querying the impenetrable mumbo jumbo of this absurd “deal”. But the effort is all in vain because this deal is meaningless until reality approaches in the form of our future trading discussions.
By all accounts there is trouble ahead like nothing we have seen so far. Yet there is one single conclusion which is unarguable after the exertions of all sides in this diplomatic fandango.
It is this: there is no way the EU in its present mood of disenchantment with the UK will give us a break. Why would it?
In that respect nothing has changed. Any deal that gives us terms as good as, or better than, those we enjoy currently as members of the EU, is a fantasy. The EU’s understandable attitude will be to pocket our £40 billion (or more?) and tell us in the phrase of the day to “go whistle” for preferential terms.
If this soft(ish) Brexit cannot be pushed through, we shall have the hard version which only the Europhobes want. Or maybe neither of these.
Perhaps there is one glimmer of common sense. Maybe, just maybe, public opinion will continue to warm to a second referendum. Or perhaps Mrs May’s fingertips might eventually weaken enough to let her slip away to the backbenches or into another general election.
And then anything can happen. One way or another this farce surely cannot continue without the electorate calling time on the politicians. If things go as badly as some believe they must, the day might yet come when we can say: “Enough. Let’s call the whole thing off”.