All better now? Exit brainache Brexit? Paradise regained? Yup, by the end of the month the UK will be cruising out of Europe, after nearly half a century. But casting off is not the same as making landfall. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, there are choppy waters ahead for politics in 2020.
‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C, when you sing you begin with do-re-mi.’
Well, politics in 2020 had to begin with the Prime Minister’s New Year’s message. And he’s hoping his promise to work with Remainers as ‘friends and equals’, sounds like music to all.
But will his talk of a ‘people’s’ government strike the right note? Coming as it did from his getaway hidey-hole on the island of Mustique?
Ordinary sort of place really, no one there apart from ordinary sort of billionaires, rock stars and royals.
At least he’s getting back to work, though, along with the rest of them, this week. First job, natch, getting Brexit done. It’s all there, in his cheery greeting to the nation.
‘That oven-ready deal I talked about so much during the election campaign has already had its plastic covering pierced and been placed in the microwave.’
No mention of him doing it himself. But, hell, what are servants for anyway?
Given the Tories’ thumping new commons majority, it’s safe to assume the January 31st deadline will be met. The withdrawal law will also need to be ratified by the European parliament, but that’s a detail.
Which moves us straight into the detailed negotiations about the trade terms, which Boris Johnson insists must be sorted by the end of the year.
A whopping ask, according to the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. And a nigh-on impossibility, according to pretty much everyone who understands the complexities involved.
Still, they’re showing willing sur le continong.
Officials from the remaining 27 member states will be cracking on with a series of daily seminars in a couple of weeks or so, covering everything they can think of.
Preserving trade, fighting terrorism, common defence and maintaining travel connections. To name but a few of the obvious topics.
The government will do its best to look like it’s not engaged in some kind of war of attrition with our friends and partners across the channel.
A monumental trompe d’oeil of course, pardon my French. But banning the word ‘Brexit’ from press releases is surely the essential first step.
Hard to know quite how they’ll manage that, come the end of this month, when they’ll be administering the last rites to the Brexit department. Sure they’ll do their best, though. All anyone can do, really.
But there’ll be a handy diversion on its way, in the form of a mass cull of Cabinet members.
It’s widely expected Boris Johnson will sack up to a third of his ministers. Blood, spurt, artery? And the rest. Sir Humphrey will be sluicing down one of the biggest Whitehall restructurings in history.
Yes minister? No minister? On yer bike, minister! Broken on the whirling wheels of government. Which doesn’t sound very nice.
And of course, the official opposition will be aiding and abetting this diversionary tactic, by ripping itself to shreds.
Otherwise known as the Labour Leadership Contest, this ceremonial act of collective flagellation will, sometime in March, draw to its gory conclusion.
Though at this stage this conclusion is also looking a tad foregone. As a YouGov poll suggests the winner is… the Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit.
Oh dear, that word again. Sorry about that.
Any road up, Sir Keir Starmer, standard-bearer for those Remainers and regular scourge of Compromiser Corbyn, is runaway favourite.
So much for one last heave, and a grateful nation greets the second socialist coming.
So much also for the imperative of putting a woman in charge.
Nothing’s quite in the bag, mind, as ‘the People’s Party’ hasn’t quite made up its mind yet which section of the people gets to choose. No point rushing at things.
And no point getting all that excited about that other epic struggle on the horizon. The Liberal Democrat Leadership Contest.
What? What? What’s all this yawning and feet-shuffling at the back?
Be fair now, their last bums-on-seats crowd-puller, Jo Swinson, did, well, lose her seat. So they have to dress the theatre somehow.
Besides, they’d love to take heart from the local elections, scheduled for early May.
Up for grabs will be more than a hundred councils, plus a handful of directly elected mayors. Including Bojo’s old gig, in London, incidentally.
The Lib Dems did really well in the town hall poll last May, at the expense of the Tories. And there’s no law against dreaming.
Anyway, come June, we’re back to Brexit with a vengeance, as there’ll be a European summit and some kind of political declaration about how everyone’s getting on with sorting a new trade deal for us lot.
Begs the question what kind of declaration, however. Of war?
Well, not literally, obvs. But that month is the cut-off point for UK to ask for more time to work out the details, if they’re not neatly slipping into place.
Seeing as no one really thinks they will be, this could be a moment for holding on to your hats, everyone. Especially as Bojo’s blithely blustered all along he’s not going there.
Tends to suggest the whole process will be going nowhere fast for the following few months. Oh dear, hissy fits all round then.
But, come November, the US cavalry will be riding to the rescue. Or at least providing a little light relief for all us poor Brexit-weary wallies.
Assuming The Donald hasn’t been impeached down the pan by then, which looks doubtful, then he’ll be in for a second term as President. Or chucked out, according to the verdict of those guys and gals stateside.
Partly depends on who’s standing against him, of course. And there’s even an outside chance that Hillary Clinton might have another crack at it.
Before you go spluttering comb-over versus loser, spare a thought for the Gunfight at O.K. Corral forty years ago between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
That presidential election was written off at the time as a small-time spat between peanut farmer and b-movie actor.
And yet Reagan held on to the job for eight years, and did get a lot of respect along the way. So you never know.
We’re also in the dark about how 2020 will finally play out, in terms of Britain’s place in the world and future prosperity.
Everything hinges on our final deal, or no-deal, with the European Union. If nothing’s agreed, we fall back on basic World Trade Organization terms.
This would mean tariffs on goods and hardly any co-operation at the border posts. In short, shambles. Leaving both sides scrabbling about with what to do about the huge stash of cash everyone would be set to lose.
Happy days. Not. Or maybe not not.
Last week someone conducted a quick round-robin among senior personnel at The Times about how things will play out.
It produced a variety of responses, some colourful and many flatly contradicting one another. But the prize goes to the paper’s Scottish political editor.
Here it is in full. ‘A political prediction? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Make them at your peril’.
Take his point. Just two days into the New Year the Prime Minister’s chief aide appealed to ‘weirdos and misfits’ to come and work with him at Number Ten. No one saw that Cumming (sic), for a start.
Could be argued, though, it’s a non-story. As the place is full of them anyway.
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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