Those of us in UK who still have the residual energy to bother with what is going on where the self-defeating business of cutting our ties with the rest of Europe is concerned find ourselves in an uncomfortable state of suspended animation, still vaguely hopeful that it might yet turn out to be slightly less catastrophic than it seems almost certain to be. Boris Johnson’s very, very, very last deadline date for the completion of talks about a Brexit deal has, like the rest of the bedraggled trail of final deadline dates, come and gone, and the talks still go on. Given that the talking was said to have gone on all night on Saturday to meet that very, very, very final deadline, the talkers must be getting very tired of talking, but the fatigue can’t be allowed to slow the talking down too much as the dread hour when our Covid-tarnished sliver carriage of an economy turns into a pumpkin pulled along by rats is only 17 days away.
In the meantime, Johnson appears to be oblivious of his past utterances as he hangs the Brexit-supporting mediocrities in his cabinet out to dry as they trudge wearily round the broadcasting studios lamely trying to explain what their boss meant when he said on Friday that a ‘no-deal Brexit would be wonderful.’ Johnson may not be able to remember or care about the various lies he has told to suit the moment over the past few years, but they go on record and the journalists and interviewers who get to interview him have access to the record. So in 2016 Johnson is on record as declaring, ‘I would vote for the single market. I’m in favour of the single market’; in 2017 he said, ‘There is no plan for no deal because we are going to get a great deal’; in the run-up to the General Election in 2019 Johnson said of a no-deal, ‘…be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible’; again shortly before the election in 2019 he said, ‘We have an oven ready deal, put it in the microwave as soon as we get back after the election on Friday 12th Dec and get it done.’ Instead of doing all that talking, someone should just have remembered to switch the microwave on. And now a no-deal Brexit would be ‘wonderful’ because ‘we’d be able to do exactly what we want from January.’
How could one argue with that? Look where doing exactly what he wants – lying, philandering, endorsing bullying, to mention just a few of his favourite pursuits – has got him. If it was good for him, why shouldn’t that be good for the country as a whole? Leaving aside all the very many economists, business leaders, captains of industry, senior police and intelligence officers and many others who think it will be disastrous, there are grown-ups even in the Conservative Party who think so too, as exemplified by Michael Heseltine: ‘This government will be – and should be – held responsible for quite simply the worst peace-time decision of modern times.’
The most optimistic interpretation of what is happening is that it is all just elaborately staged theatre designed to present superman Boris, dressed in his best Winston Churchill outfit, as flying to the rescue of the nation via a vaguely workable deal at the very last minute, and that the EU is playing along with it in order to enable Boris to save face. It would be nice to believe this, but it would require the EU’s key players to be as dishonest and careless of the wellbeing of their representatives as Johnson is, which they clearly aren’t. It would also require Johnson to be capable of the most elementary understanding of the EU’s position and negotiation principles, which he clearly isn’t. This was plainly evidenced last week by his pathetic attempts to have a quiet word in the ears of Merkel and Macron in the hope of being able to have his cake and eat it by following Britain’s long-standing colonial strategy of dividing and ruling. Neither Merkel nor Macron, wholly predictably, was prepared to take his phone-call. Their refusal provoked a response from the Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Khan, that demonstrates precisely what kind of Tory mind-set Johnson represents, and what the rest of us find ourselves up against: ‘I stand with millions of Britons that are deeply insulted at the shocking news that the German chancellor has refused the British prime minister’s request for a telephone call. This is an insult to every Briton, whether they support our PM or not.’ Oddly enough, I don’t feel insulted.