Boris Johnson is the big bad bear of Brexit. He was ominously quiet for a while and abstained from mauling Theresa May while she was in feverish negotiations with Brussels. But after she could convince EU governments of sufficient progress and that talks should carry on, the short closed season seems to be over. "Brexit mustn't leave us a vassal state”, barks Boris, discussing Britain's new place in the world. Now that is properly inflammatory language. It originates from MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who adores ancient history.
In 2018 the talks will continue about the conditions for a transition phase. This is the period between Brexit on March 30th, 2019, and a date early in 2021. Britain will have become a third country, like Turkey or Albania. The EU's offer for a transition phase means a freeze of the status quo for two years after Brexit. Britain would have to retain all rules and regulations, take new ones on board, respect the rulings of the European Court of Justice and pay its dues into the kitty. How does that compare to a "vassal state?” The country would become a rule-taker, like Norway, not a part of the rule-making process as a full EU member.
Theresa May told her Brexit war cabinet on Monday that Britain should leave the common fisheries and agricultural policies during the transition period. And this will be the next fight in the new year because it is not what the EU offered. It will again take months of persuasion for the prime minister and leading Tory politicians to become used to the stark reality of the "interim phase."
Brexiteers dream of 'Canada plus cake'
Theresa May also rejects the claim of Michel Barnier, that the UK will not be allowed a bespoke trade deal. It seems really difficult to insert a dose of reality into the Brexiteers' ideas about a future trade agreement. Basic talks will start next spring. But the big fudge goes on. Neither Theresa May nor her ministers tell the British public about the existing possibilities. Instead, London maintains a dream factory in the best Hollywood tradition.
"The government must seek to maximize the benefits of Brexit," demands Boris. These benefits however are so secret that no papers have been circulated before the first-ever full cabinet meeting on Brexit this Tuesday. Details could leak and stir up the press and public. The fate of the so-called "Brexit impact papers" comes to mind. They were supposed to contain "excruciating detail," as minister David Davis had asserted in parliament. Only to disappear completely and cease to exist a short while after.
Among the Brexit dreamers, David Davis recently took the cake with his mention of "Canada plus, plus, plus." He wants access to the EU internal market for goods, but also for services, the financial sectors, aviation, culture and everything. He seams to think that the Europeans will give all this to the United Kingdom just from the goodness of their hearts. Brussels should present all the European goodies to the UK on a silver platter and for free. Now, how likely is that?
The deal on offer is 'Canada dry'
These illusions would be short-lived if Theresa May and others listened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel or EU negotiator Michel Barnier. The UK and its leaders must realize, he wrote in Prospect magazine, that "there won't be any cherry picking." Barnier has already said that what feels like 150 times, but he's prerpared to repeat himself. "We won't mix up the various scenarios to create a specific one and accommodate their [the UK's] wishes. Mixing for instance the advantages of the Norwegian model, member of the single market, with the simple requirements of the Canadian one. No way." So which part of "there will be no bespoke deal and no cherry picking" do Brexiteers not understand?
If Theresa May's government wants to know what the future holds in possible trade agreements between Brussels and London, it should simply take Barnier's statements at face value. But that would probably get in the way of everybody's sweet dreams.
A majority against Brexit?
A poll suggested last week that for the first time since the referendum there might be a majority against Brexit. The Independent had assigned the survey and reported a ten-point lead for "Remain." The result was repeated widely in German newspapers. Even though the Germans and their chancellor normally appear quite blasé about Brexit, it seems that hope dies last.
Brexiteers sneer at the supposed change of mood and complain that Remainers are subverting "the will of the people” as expressed in the referendum. It seems after the mighty "they" have spoken once, by a narrow margin, folks can't change their minds.
A vote in Parliament brings death threats
Last week saw a major setback for May.A handful of Tory rebels who think the Brexit slogan "take back control” should refer to parliament threw their lot in with the Labour opposition and defeated her. After the outline of a future Brexit deal is done — provisionally around October 2018 — parliamentarians will, against the government's wishes, get a final "take-it-or-leave-it" vote. This of course is of limited usefulness, because if MPs reject the deal the prime minister brings back from Brussels, there will be no time and no will on the EU side for further negotiations. That means the dreaded cliff-edge would loom.
But still: Whether it's useful or not, there will be a vote when a Brexit deal is nigh. The Daily Mail published the portraits and names of the rebellious eleven Conservative MPs, who subsequently received verbal abuse and death threats via social media. MPs Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve complained and handed the most serious on to the police. "The atmosphere is so febrile," wrote Grieve in the Guardian, "that it firstly leads to people not listening to what the debate is about, secondly suggests that any questions around Brexit amount tp an intention to sabotage and thirdly results at times […in] death threats.” Somehow, the Brexit era does not sound overly appealing.
No pity for 'skint' Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), erstwhile rabble-rouser-in-chief, and most recently Trump favorite and talk-radio host, takes pride in being one of the fathers of Brexit. Last week he bared all in an interview with the Daily Mail, claiming that he was paying a high personal price for his political success. He can't walk down the street alone for fear of being attacked, Farage said, summing up his situation bleakly: "I'm 53, separated and skint”.
His enemies all fell about laughing. How can he survive, with his €101,000 annual salary from the European Parliament and his four-million-pound house in Chelsea, an upmarket London borough, people asked sarcastically. Others told him that he looked older than his 53 years, should get a new haircut and better clothes. There were also offers for a crowdfunded one-way ticket to the US or a starring role in "Brexit, the Musical." Farage was mercilessly reminded of his seven failed attempts to win a seat in the House of Commons and the less empathetic commenters even suggested that the reason for the separation from his German-born wife was not Brexit, but an affair with a young aide.
What did Farage have to say about the so-called Tory rebels: ”My contempt for career politicians knows no bounds." Why so much self-hatred, Nigel?
Christmas means Christmas
"Brexit means Brexit" was probably Theresa May's most memorable phrase last year. And in this spirit the Diaries respond with "Christmas means Christmas." We'll take a break until after the New Year.