Less than a week from now, European leaders will give a definite yea or nay to Bojo’s Brexit blueprint. In recent days they’ve switched from dream on to hey, let’s talk. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the glimmer of a green light’s set nerves jangling almost to breaking point.
During the widespread industrial unrest of the 1970’s, Fleet Street had a simple technique for telling the news.
They’d alternate headlines on a daily basis. ‘Hopes rose .. hopes fell’.
But second-guessing whether some bunch of workers was going to down tools was a game of tiddlywinks, compared to what we’re looking at now.
Whether or not Britain crashes chaotically out of the European Union at the end of this month has momentous implications either way.
And the fact that parliament will be sitting on Saturday, to have a little natter about the EU’s verdict at its mid-week crunch summit, rather makes the point.
Our revered politicians (discuss) only do weekend catch-ups when there really is something to talk about. Like the outbreak of World War Two, or the Suez crisis, or the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands.
Or it could be they’re just trying to suck up to the voters.
After all, someone high up in Downing Street did suggest a few days ago that this is ‘a parliament that is as popular as the clap’.
No names, no pack drill. Had the source said this is ‘a f***ing parliament that is as f***ing popular as the f***ing clap’ it’d have been an open and shut case.
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief strategist and former Vote Leave mastermind, does, after all, have a way with words. Especially four-letter ones.
In the same briefing note he, or whoever, also stated Number Ten would have nothing to do with a Brexit delay. Adding ‘everything to do with duty of sincere co-operation will be in the toilet’.
Give the shortlist of likely suspects hovered around one, the thoughts of Bojo’s Doppelgänger/Svengali/Rasputin were an insight into Boris in grumpy mode.
But pretty much everyone, on both sides of the channel, had been veering in and out of just that in recent days, until the Irish Prime Minister and Boris Johnson amazed the world on Thursday by agreeing there could be ‘a pathway to a possible deal’.
Definitely a ‘hopes rose’ moment that, given that the border between the north and south of Ireland has been the sticking point all along.
Also worth bearing in mind that Brussels pretty quickly took its cue from Dublin, as all along it’s been a matter of solidarity.
Talks are set to intensify in coming days, and everyone’s got their fingers crossed.
Certainly, the value of the pound immediately perked up on the money markets. And carried on rising, as actresses are supposed to say to bishops.
A nice change from all the gloomy economic forecasts kicking around lately.
According to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, even quite a good-natured no-deal Brexit would push the UK debt to its highest for more than half a century.
And the taxman reckons any kind of no-deal would cost British businesses up to fifteen billion smackers a year.
Did someone say ouch? Sort of depends who you ask. In-depth polling by YouGov provides an interesting insight into the British psyche just now.
It appears the more dire warnings Brexiteers hear of ghastly outcomes, the more they dig their heels in.
‘We’ve weathered storms before’, the thinking goes, ‘we’ll weather this one’. A question of patriotism then. A resurrection of the Blitz spirit.
Some historians say this alleged zeitgeist, pardon the language, was a bit of a myth. And that in the early part of the war the Lord Haw-Haw of the infamous ‘Germany calling’ catchphrase, had more credibility than the BBC.
But back to the present, if Bojo and the Irish Prime Minister can stitch up a deal they can override any harrumphing by Ulster’s Democratic Unionists.
These guys had a lot of clout when their backing handed the government power in parliament. But now that twenty-one Tory MP’s have been chucked out of the party they’re looking a bit flaccid. As actresses have also very likely said to bishops.
So, not wanting to be too pointy-headed about it, it’s worth having a glance at what Number Ten has in mind.
The problem is, and always was, that where Northern Ireland ends and the Republic of Ireland begins is the only land border between UK and the EU.
If a line had to be a drawn anywhere, this was the worst possible place for it.
Any suggestion of infrastructure runs the risk of inflaming tensions. And, given the all-too-recent history of confrontation, this could turn violent.
So what the British government is proposing looks like being a splodgy splurge of this and that.
Instead of one dodgy border between the two halves of the island there’ll be two borders. The other one being between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.
That’s because, although Northern Ireland would largely go with the rest of Britain, it’d stick closer to European rules about farming and other products.
And most of the customs checks on stuff toing and froing between UK and the EU would be done electronically, with hardly any physical checks.
Oh, and btw, these checks should take place miles away from the border itself.
There’s been a lot of huffing and puffing about how none of this is a runner. But, given a no-deal would give real grief to Irish companies on both sides of the island, serious thought is being given to finding a middle way.
If – and this remains a monumental if – if some kind of deal can be stitched up then Bojo will be laughing.
That’s assuming MP’s don’t revert to type next weekend and chuck out whatever’s been agreed in Brussels. As they have three times already. Or tag on a second referendum, which they could still do.
But if he does manage to straddle the hurdle and keep his cojones intact, Boris can then fight the general election that can’t be far off, on a ‘we did it’ platform.
‘Yay, the people voted, the people won, thanks to us. What’s not to like?’
Failing that, there’s the small matter of the Benn/Surrender Act.
MP’s passed a law a little while back that said if there’s no deal then we must ask for more time to sort something.
Hmmm. Bojo has two things to say about that. One, we will do as we’re told. And two, we won’t.
Actually, he probably will be a good doggie when it comes to it. But still fight the election the Labour leader’s now said he could trigger at any moment on the ‘we would’ve if we could’ve’ ticket.
And it could work. The opinion polls are so all over the place that anything’s possible.
But there are also wild cards. Like the investigation into his relationship, as Mayor of London, with ‘sexy’ Yankee businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.
She’s a bit cagey about how, er, close they actually were. But if it can be proved they knew one another in the biblical sense then what was he doing passing public funds her way?
Such inquiries are, of their essence, ponderous. But their outcomes can be terminal, careerwise.
What the hell? Who’s in or who’s out of Downing Street is surely a detail next to whether Britain’s in, or out, of Europe.
All about perspective. That of politician, or journalist? Well, columnist/Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it’s make your mind up time!
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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