Recent events have brought to mind an old joke that goes something like this. It involves two vessels approaching each other on a collision course:
“Please make way! You are obstructing our passage through the open seas.”
“Regretfully we are unable to comply. I’m afraid it is you that must make way.”
“We are a battleship of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy! We represent the glorious British Empire and all who sail in her! Brexit means Brexit! You must make way immediately!!”
“We are a lighthouse.”
I understand that Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier have at last cobbled together a trade deal that has proved, after a somewhat fraught five-hour meeting, acceptable to the cabinet. There will inevitably be some hiccups on the way (such as the resignation of said Raab, announced as I write) but it seems to me that its future course can be mapped out with some confidence.
The next stage is for the 580-odd page document to be presented to parliament, and to the 27 nation states that make up the EU, any one of which can veto the agreement. (Yes, contrary to what some would have you believe, it is the individual states that actually hold power within the EU). From this point on, the agreement is doomed.
The DUP cannot go along with it unless the agreement holds the whole of the UK within a customs union and beholden to EU law. Anything else would require either a hard border with Ireland, or Northern Ireland being treated as a special case which the SNP would also reject as it would give Northern Ireland an unfair advantage over Scotland.
Although The Labour Party is supposedly commited to the “will of the people” (i.e. something that can at least be portrayed as a “Brexit”) its six tests mean it cannot accept the agreement unless it delivers the “exact same benefits” as EU member states enjoy. However, any agreement that does offer us the “exact same benefits” will inevitably be rejected by the EU member states as it would put them at a disadvantage against the UK.
So, at last, the government will have to admit that “Brexit” has always meant “Hard Brexit”, and that the past three years of negotiation have been a waste of time. After all, for the hard Brexiteers, Brexit has never been about retaining our trading status with the EU. Brexiteers, or at least those who retain any honesty, acknowledge that our trade with EU countries will suffer; however they argue that any losses will be more than made up by new trade deals that we will be free to negotiate with America, China, Australia and assorted ghosts of the British Empire.
Back in the real world, and faced with the choice between “no deal” and remain (i.e forget the whole thing ever happened), the government will realise that they will be taking the blame unless they return the vote to the people. Presented with a choice between business as usual (or at least as it was three years ago) and a leap into the dark for which we are singularly unprepared, it seems highly likely that we will vote to remain. And so, assuming the EU allows us to stay, we will at last have accepted the hard facts of geography over the fake-news of politics. Whether the Tory or the Labour Party survive in anything like their present form seems unlikely. What can be said with some certainty is that the Brexiteers will blame the EU for the outcome. And so it goes.