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Brexit Latest: A Whiff of Compromise? Or Defiance?

Brexit Latest: A Whiff of Compromise? Or Defiance?

EU graffiti - child trying to lead a bulldog away from eu flag

Both, actually. In the same breath Boris Johnson’s offered new terms and thrown down the gauntlet – to those he still terms ‘our European friends’. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, he’s also gearing up for the blame game.

‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

Winston Churchill’s ringing rhetoric when he sensed the tide might be turning after the second Battle of El Alamein carries an echo today.

Not least because World War Two dragged on for another three years before it finally came to its bloody conclusion.

It’s longer than that already since Britain voted, just, to take a leap in the dark and quit the EU.

And now three possibilities present themselves.

One, Boris somehow persuades parliament and the people in Brussels he’s got a viable new set of proposals. And we leave with a deal on October 31st.

Two, Boris fails to persuade anyone of anything and carries out MPs’ legally binding instruction to ask Brussels for more time to sort something.

Three, Boris puts two fingers up to the law and crashes us out anyway.

At this stage he’s wearing a smile. But Hamlet’s take on his fratricidal uncle Claudius springs to mind here.

‘That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain’.

You’d never guess it from all the happy clapping at the Tory conference in Manchester last week, but almost everyone else thinks he’s dodgy.

Jolly japes in his keynote speech about kangaroos’ testicles can’t disguise the fact that his own could be vulnerable on many fronts.

There was one line, about loving whomsoever you choose, that could be taken more than one way.

OK, he was talking about trade deals with a load of other countries post Brexit, but, well, you get the drift.

It’s not really a matter of trying female journalists’ thighs for size, or maybe later sighs, hope springs eternal and all that.

Far more tricky is the sexy Yankee lady on whom Bojo bestowed financial favours during his time as London Mayor.

That could yet come back to bite him in the kangaroos. In time.

As could any wanton defiance of the law passed only a few weeks ago that says he simply can’t crash us out if no agreement’s reached at the European summit scheduled for less than a fortnight’s time.

Scotland’s highest court is weighing up whether he should be put in clink if he doesn’t do as he’s told. Oops! Naughty step with nasty knobs on it.

Slightly conflicting signals at the moment. His lawyer told the court he’d obey the law. He says he won’t. Well, sort of. A space to watch.

Meantime, he’s playing the Bojo bonhomie card. A tour of European capitals in coming days, being nice to everyone.

That way at least he can say he’s jolly well given it a go, so it’s not his fault if his ideas get the bum’s rush.

But the EU has no wish to look like Mr and Mrs Nasty either. Hence the open doors and smiley faces that’ll greet him.

But the brute reality remains. They risk getting a shiner. We could end up with a broken jaw.

And thus far things in the ring aren’t looking too good.

Back in the 80’s, playwright Alan Ayckbourn wrote a brilliantly intricate comedy called A Chorus of Disapproval.

And right now that neatly sums up the international reaction to the latest British plan. The plan thus far does not deliver the Dijon. Cut the moutarde? Non.

All very well parliament thinking it’s a whacko wheeze. The current possibility, that it might just vote for it, makes no odds. If Europe says no then no it is.

The biggest stumbling block is and has always been the border between the north and south of Ireland.

As of now, flitting from Ulster to the republic is no different from crossing from Devon into Cornwall.

But when/if we pull out of the European Union it’ll all change. Thanks to different tax and regulatory arrangements there’ll need to be checks on stuff being moved about.

And a physical infrastructure erected on any of the three hundred or so potential crossing points could provoke a resurgence of the violence that beset the north for decades.

At least, that’s the fear. And that’s why Theresa May (remember her?) cobbled together the idea of a backstop. Which meant Northern Ireland remaining, if it came to it, closer to Europe than mainland Britain.

But, hey presto, Boris has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Northern Ireland would remain aligned to the European single market for some things, while still pulling out of its customs union.

All very nerdy and blah blah. But the upshot is there’d need to be some kind of checks not just between the two halves of Ireland, but also between Ulster and mainland Britain.

So instead of one awkward border they’d end up with two of them. Er, counterintuitive? Discuss.

And the very idea’s left many businesses in the north fearing for their future viability.

Seems Ulster’s Democratic Unionists, on whose votes Bojo would rely to get anything past parliament, are prepared to risk it. But no one else is, north or south.

So, assuming none of this goes anywhere, what next?

With the collision looming so perilously close, the blame game script is being burnished here there and everywhere.

In Brussels they’ve tried to sound reasonable and thoughtful, even while effectively giving the British plan the thumbs down.

While at Westminster, it’s been reported, there’s an internal memo kicking around suggesting that if it all goes tits up then Tory MP’s must point the finger at Europe.

Yah-boo shucks, you smell and we don’t. That sort of thing.

However, on balance, the least unlikely way forward is that Boris will in the end decide being dead in a ditch isn’t such a great idea after all.

Meaning he will ask for an extension, and get it. And of course, since he chucked out twenty-one of his own MP’s and kissed goodbye to his parliamentary majority, the opposition can trigger an election any time.

Hardly an ideal outcome for the Conservatives. Because if we are at that stage still in the European Union the Brexit party will have a right old laugh.

Not that the polls are much help. The twenty-five surveys last month predicted anything between a Conservative and Labour dead heat, and a huge fifteen per cent Tory lead.

Brilliant. The BBC’s former election guru David Cowling sagely suggested perhaps astrology is the way forward.

Certainly we could do with a good fairy sprinkling eudaimonia on us all. Lovely word that. Greek. Means happiness or welfare. Sort of.

The Lib Dems think they’ve got the wand. Give us a crack at power, they say, and we’ll just cancel Brexit. One way of putting it all behind us. And in the upcoming election it seems pretty much anything’s a runner.

Hard to tell which the Tories would hate more. A Corbyn victory or a hung parliament with the Lib Dems gripping their kangaroos. At very least that would make a second referendum a racing certainty.

For now though, all the Tory talk’s about getting Brexit done and thus, at a stroke, uniting the country once more.

Yerright. Look out for low-flying pigs. But there is unanimity on one front, if that’s any consolation.

Ask any commentator or politician, no matter how senior, where we’re going to end up and they’ll all agree, at least privately.

Some use the f-word and others don’t, but the message is the same: Search me, guv, ain’t gotta clue.

Cop-out? At least it’s honest.


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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