Out of the frying pan?

Were such things here as we do speak about?
Or have we eaten on the insane root
That takes the reason prisoner

How is it possible that we have made such a mess of things? Well I say “we” but of course what I mean is the government. And the EU, as I’m fairly sure there are those in the negotiating teams on the other side of the channel who have been less than helpful as the UK struggles to get itself out if the mess.

Of course, I am also sure that there are people from EU states who want nothing more than to ensure that the EU and the UK come to a mutually acceptable business, economic and political accord that works as well as it can for the majority of businesses and citizens both sides of the Channel and the North Sea.

I’m equally certain that there are those in EU member states who secretly or not so secretly believe that it is we who chose to leave their party, that they didn’t ask us to go yet we expect them to order us a taxi, pay for it and take our pick of the wine and sausage rolls left over. One imagines them saying: “it’s their choice, so balls to them” or whatever the French equivalent is. Or German, as it looks like the baby-faced Macron has enough of his own domestic problems to worry about just now.

All of which is a long winded way of getting round to saying what the actual you-know-what happened yesterday in Parliament? Having promised a vote and categorically denied any possibility of postponing it, Mrs May announced at 3.30pm yesterday that she was doing just that. She clearly didn’t feel that she had mustered enough support amongst the masses and Parliamentarians to guarantee a yes vote (though she had tried. Oh boy did she work at it, I’ll give her that).

So May is spending today fighting for her political life. If she wins over the 158 MPs she needs to see off the No Confidence motion, she will then have  to return to the EU negotiating table to try and get the deal sharpened up . The deal that she had already told us was the best deal there could be under the circumstances.

Assuming she wins out – I’m a sucker for an underdog, so I listened to her Downing Street steps speech this morning with a growing sense of – you go girl! – then this could pan out in several ways: 1. The EU holds its hands up admits it tried to fob us off and brings the real, workable, fair deal out from the desk drawer. 2. They huddle together behind the Brussels sofa, whispering ‘has she gone yet? You look. No you look. Shhhh, she’ll hear us’ 3. The door is locked with the No Cold Callers sign pinned to it, the doorbell going unanswered. 4. The EU and the UK negotiators get together one last time, sit round the table like grownups and actually set out a workable compromise that neither side is overjoyed at but which does at least have the benefit of being, you know, workable.

According to this afternoon’s Evening Standard (Tuesday 11th December), it’s looking like scenario 3, the worst possible business outcome. If MPs won’t vote for the deal and the EU won’t negotiate a new one, then what we are left with is NO DEAL.

This was always going to be a mess. Anyone who thought we could just walk away with our heads high, our supermarkets well stocked, our Spanish summer holidays as cheap as ever, and £350m in our NHS was deluded. Not lied to, but marketed to. That Leave Battle Bus slogan was only ever that, a campaign slogan, designed to lure the undecided and confirm to the decided the righteousness of their stance.

The issue with the hard Irish border was always, always going to be a problem. A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland breaks the terms of the hard-won Good Friday Agreement. I can’t believe that Leave didn’t think to work out some sort of workable plan before they painted the sides of that bus. Well I can believe it as I suspect they didn’t expect to win.

Any-one got a paddle, ‘coz I just checked our location and it’s you-know-what creek ?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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