Brexit now resembles a mash-up of ‘Father Ted’ – Irish Times

Brexit now resembles a mash-up of ‘Father Ted’ – Irish Times

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The behaviour of the Brexiteers at the heart of the UK government is beginning to resemble a mash-up of several episodes of Father Ted.

That some prominent Leavers are clearly having doubts over the wisdom over the whole thing reminds me of the conversation during which Dougal revealed to Ted that he doesn’t really believe in all that guff about God, angels and the hereafter.

Ted reacts as a priest should but leaves us feeling that he would dearly love to admit to similar doubts. The fervour of the Brexiteers is reminiscent of fundamentalist but evidence-free belief.

The cabinet minister in the role of sensible but long suffering Ted is the chancellor of the exchequer, Phillip Hammond. Like Ted, he is pledged to poverty (austerity) but, with the billion pound bung to the DUP, can be heard muttering “the money was only resting in my account”. Ted always wanted to give Bishop Brennan a kick up the backside: Hammond would almost certainly like to do the same to his colleagues.

Brexit means Brexit

Mrs Doyle used to wander around randomly asking anyone and no one if they would like “a nice cup of tea”. Theresa May pops up now and then to rehearse equally meaningless lines, most notably, Brexit means Brexit. She also clearly likes the idea of eating cake.

Like a visiting prelate from Rome who tries to restore order to the madhouse that is Craggy Island, we observe the interventions of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier pointing out some simple facts and obvious truths.

He exposes the delusions “of some people in the UK” and we don’t have to wonder who he means. His reference this week to the ‘the’ customs union was subtle but significant: use of the definite article signalled that there is no chance of the UK negotiating ‘a’ frictionless customs union.

Absence of the customs union means, according to Barnier, that 100 per cent of agricultural goods, for example, will face border checks and controls. This was news – Irish farmers will be both appalled and terrified.

More generally, he repeated that “the UK could not leave the single market and opt into the sectors you like the most”. I hope somebody at Nissan, who were probably promised precisely this scenario by the Brexiteers, was listening.

Brussels is clearly growing more and more frustrated with the incoherence of the British negotiating position; its lack of clarity. The EU’s negotiators are simply looking at the clock which ticks remorseless towards the deadline – and nothing much of substance is happening.

No-deal’ disaster

The oddball elderly priest, Father Fay, who talks gibberish much of the time, reminds me of Jeremy Corbyn, who says, for example, that “being in the single market means you have to be in the EU”. The leader of the Labour Party, possibly – probably – a future Prime Minister has clearly never heard of Norway

Barnier points out that ‘no-deal’ will be a disaster: a return to a far distant past. And he is quietly convincing when he says any negotiated deal must, by definition, leave the UK worse off than the status quo.

Brexit itself is beginning to resemble the body of Father Jack as it lays in the church the night before his funeral. The errant priest isn’t dead of course, neither is Brexit. But it is beginning to look as rough around the edges as did Jack. Opinion polls are pointing to a majority (bigger than the one that voted to leave) of people now wanting to remain. Up to 60 per cent of UK citizens say they want to retain their EU passport – something that is, of course, quite impossible unless Brexit dies.

Brexit as a zombie idea is beginning to grow. The talk around Westminster is of a five- year transition deal, negotiated to begin in 2019, that simply becomes permanent. Stranger things have happened.

Leading the charge into a sensible transitional arrangement (permanent or otherwise) is the employers organisation, the CBI. This week they joined countless others who have pointed out the impossibility of negotiating anything substantive in the time available. And, in one of several reverses prompted by the recent election, Theresa May has indicated a willingness to start listening to business.

Headbangers

So there has to be a period after 2019 which yields enough time to negotiate a final settlement. This is where it gets interesting.

Headbanger Brexiteers will cry foul but so will the EU – unless the transition deal changes absolutely nothing. Freedom of movement, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and all the rest must be preserved or the EU will not agree to an open-ended transition.

That’s a clearly established red line. In this scenario, the UK leaves the EU and then absolutely nothing happens. Nothing changes at all except for the absence of the UK during any EU decision making process. The scriptwriters of Father Ted, or any other comedy show, couldn’t make it up.

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