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Brexit Diaries 24: An elephant in the room

Barbara Wesel
January 15, 2018

On Nigel Farage seeing the elephant in the room, Philip Hammond’s problems dancing the tango, and Brexit as a huge waste of time.

The Brexit Diaries.en

There's nothing easier than ignoring the elephant in the room. You can run around it, climb up a ladder to get over it, or peek underneath it, if you refuse to acknowledge its existence.

But then it came to pass, that a certain Nigel F. suddenly announced: "There's an elephant in the room!" So unfortunately, it now has to be addressed. Had you been in Britain, it would have felt like an earthquake when Farage quite unexpectedly declared: "Maybe, just maybe, I'm reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership." If only, of course, to finish off the paralyzing Brexit argument for a generation.  

His friends were confused. Why would Nigel, the proud chief propagandist of the EU haters, stab them in the back this way? There are two possible explanations. Nigel is either desperately seeking media attention, after his last appearance in Brussels fell flat. Or, he just has an instinct about making sure he's on the winning side for posterity's sake. Because suddenly, everyone's talking about the possibility of a second referendum. The hardcore Brexiteers have no parliamentary majority, and the deal with the EU really could fail. A second referendum now seems like a plausible way out of a difficult situation.

More Brexit diaries:

Brexit Diaries 23: Onward and upwards 2018

Brexit Diaries 22: The ghosts of Brexit's future

Brexit Diaries 21: David Davis and the struggles of a minister

Farage, by the way, is now feeling the bite of the EU parliament — the institution he's denigrated for years but from which he continues to accept a salary — where it hurts. His salary is being docked €40,000 ($49,000), to recoup funds spent on hiring an assistant, which the EU says was actually working on issues related to Farage's UKIP party, not his work as an MEP.

Tango dancers
Does Philip Hammond possess the seductive powers to tango with the EU?Image: DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images

It takes two to tango

British Finance Minister Philip Hammond, traveled to Berlin where he sought support from business leaders. London is so important as a financial hub, he said, that the EU shouldn't be so stupid as to cut itself off. If need be, London could pay for access to EU markets. But denials from London were swift to follow. Any Brexit deal must also open the door for the financial services industry, as that makes up such a large part of the British economy. Talk of a Canada-style free-trade deal with the EU is simply narrow minded.

And anyway, the EU should stop being so "paranoid" and insistent on punishing Britain for leaving the EU. It doesn't look like any other countries are going to follow Britain's example and jump ship. Did he actually mean to say that they're not so silly as to follow Britain's example?

Striking a deal — will they or won't they?

Hammond went on to say that Britain wants more. A special, deep, and close partnership with the EU. Exactly. It's called membership. They don't want that anymore? Then perhaps the Norway model. That also won't do? Then there's little else to be done.

The EU should stop being so unimaginative and finally make Britain an offer for a deal. After all, it takes two to tango, Hammond said. Was he thinking of Angela Merkel in that moment? And does he really fancy himself such a talented dance partner that he imagines Merkel would simply glide across the dance floor with him? If there's any dancing to be done in the EU, then by a group of 27, and that dance is more likely to be a polka.

Boris Johnson walks through Downing Street in London
Boris Johnson is tearing his hair out over BrexitImage: Reuters/T. Melville

Could Brexit be a waste of time?

Boris Johnson is worried. Just like Nigel. Things simply don't seem to be going as planned. Not smoothly, gloriously, heroically and crowned with laurels. Instead Brexit seems to be running in treacle, from one obstacle to the next. And the result is looking ever more like a skewed and poorly-constructed compromise.

If Britain still had to accept dictats from Brussels, then Brexit would have been "a total waste of time," Foreign Secretary Johnson is reported to have told friends.""I'd rather us stay in than leave like that."

More Brexit diaries:

Brexit Diaries 20: Theresa May has to square the Irish circle

Brexit Diaries 19: Theresa May's 10-day ultimatum

Brexit Diaries 18: Moving vans, hypocrisy and cheeky Russian tweets

Praise be! Boris has finally understood the problem. Neither in parliament, nor among the electorate does he have a majority for a hard Brexit. That would be the head-first-over-the-cliff, come-what-may, economically suicidal exit from the EU that could only serve to meet Boris' vision of national greatness.

Due to the fact that the EU is not prepared to bed Britain's path to Brexit with flowers, a political shambles is the best he can hope for. That starts with the two-year transition period in which nothing will change, apart from the fact Britain will have no voting rights in Brussels. You could certainly call that a waste of time. But we knew that already.

Theresa May in Florence
Theresa May is planning to address the topic of Brexit again soonImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. J. Mitchell

What kind of Brexit would you like?

Prime Minister Theresa May's ministers on both sides of the Brexit divide are this week finally set to decide what form the exit should take: With or without a customs union, single market, transition, deeper cooperation and so on and so forth. There will probably be plenty of "Cake-Havery", as in the British cabinet wanting to have its cake and eat it. Which Brexit would you like? The answer is blowing in the wind. But May will make another speech about it in February.

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