17 Juin 2017
failing to get a deal for 10 Westminster votes she could have counted on anyway. Are acts of political self-harm cheaper by the dozen? Because buddying up with the DUP is the most unforced error since the last one. To the EU’s team of negotiators, it must be read as one of many indications that they can safely rest the first team when the horse-trading begins on Monday.f you want a spoiler on how Brexit negotiations might go, consider that Theresa May has now spent more than a week
Deal or no deal with the DUP, apparently, the Queen’s speech is to take place on Wednesday. And if you thought the pope’s expression in the photo with Donald Trump was fuming, just wait until you see Her Majesty’s as she steels herself through this one. Don’t call it inscrutable; scrute the hell out of it.
Brexitwise, you know things look bad when the big-match buildup is being provided by John Redwood, whose crimes against logic are surely by now the subject of a class-action suit by the Vulcan species. “I am optimistic about the EU negotiations,” declared Redwood. “It would help our country if more people got behind the government’s stance.” Why would it? Is this a bit like when Wayne Rooney blamed the fans for England’s failure to even score against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup?
And, furthermore, what stance? Of what stance do you speak? Tell us about the stance the government’s hanging in, John. I’m picturing David Davis telling Michel Barnier that no money man can win his love. It’s sweetness that he’s thinking of.
Further auto-satirical commentary is being provided by Prince Andrew, whose previous position as “UK trade envoy” only ever suggested we were a country serious about helicoptering our stupider royals between golf courses on the public purse. And of course, HRH was required to relinquish even that role after a series of revelations concerning his former friendship with a billionaire American paedophile.
Still, what’s he got to say about a negotiation all experts warn will be almost unimaginably complex? This week, Prince Andrew suggested that “many” businesses had not even looked over the “garden fence” to the global market. “And in my experience recently,” he claimed, “businesses that look over the garden fence have gone: ‘Hmm, [the] grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect.’” For all the calibre of these noises off, however, nothing can drown out the horror of the central issue gripping the nation as negotiations start.
Amid mounting public fury at the disgrace of Grenfell Tower, it is difficult to think of a more tragic, dramatic backdrop against which Britain could begin its retreat into an idealised past. Where now for the Brexit rallying cry of “a bonfire of regulations”? Is “red tape” the axiomatic bogeyman they always told us it was?
For the most part, Brexit was yesterday-disguised-as-tomorrow. Often it was explicitly touted as an act of regress, a desire to get back to the way things were when they mostly weren’t. I don’t want to get too lost in the rarefied language of historicalese, but the past was often shit. Horrendous, preventable things happened to people who lacked sufficient protection from the state, and the EU represented a concerted aspiration to make people safer personally as well as politically.
Weirdly, the purpose of much regulation is not to give Richard Littlejohn column ideas, but to reduce the incidence of death, disease and other things that turn out to be boring little concerns of boring little people.
Not that we’re hearing an awful lot from the guys who gave us Brexit, on this most febrile eve of negotiations. Less than two weeks ago, arch-Brexiter and former Cameron guru Steve Hilton was blaming the security failures of all three recent terror attacks on Theresa May, and calling for her to go. Steve’s been rather quiet this week, so let’s rely instead on an FT article by a former Whitehall colleague, Giles Wilkes, which detailed, among other things, Hilton’s obsession with the idea that fire and furniture regulations were an obstacle to the little man. Perhaps Steve can revisit this piece of wisdom in his new populist show for Fox News? It certainly feels topical.
As for Farage … well. Just as Nigel had nothing to say for 48 hours after the murder of Jo Cox, during the referendum campaign exactly a year ago, so he is deafeningly silent in the wake of Grenfell. This seems odd, given that one of Farage’s chief lines of attack on the EU was that it had become concerned with people’s “everyday lives”. Health and safety was a culture to be overthrown, not something that ought to be improved.
As indicated, though, he’s not going too big on that this week. Instead, the presidential colonoscopy chose the day after the fire to tweet a picture of himself smirking next to a half-bottle of Trump wine. The poignancy of the half-bottle was matched by the choice of evocative caption: “Happy Birthday, Mr President.” Dear me.
How quaint it seems that barely two years ago, most of Britain’s culture wars were being fought across the BBC output of Jeremy Clarkson. What halcyon days those now seem. In three days’ time, Britain will begin negotiating for its future in an atmosphere that feels like a nightmare return to its past. So much of this week has felt like a place we’ve been before, yet from which many of us had kidded ourselves we’d moved on. Newspapers seeming to blame victims after a catastrophe. Prime ministers visiting disaster sites but not meeting victims. Mounting sectarian resentment in Northern Ireland. The catastrophically broken promises of “streets in the sky”. A sort of turbo-charged yuppiedom concerned only with prettifying the surface of wicked negligence.
No one in their right mind could have imagined we’d start Brexit negotiations already able to glimpse the sunlit uplands Boris and co promised. But few could have suspected that on the eve of our future, we would find ourselves being borne quite so ceaselessly back into the past.