Richard North, 18/11/2017  

It was that 1988 Commercial Union Insurance Company which ran the highly successful series of television adverts using the catchphrase: "We won't make a drama out of a crisis".

This, at the time, was a valued attribute but, such are the values of our time that the reverse now seems to hold true. Nothing holds media attention and even the admiration of the assembled hack corps those have made a perpetual crisis out of one particular drama.

There are no prizes for guessing the identity of that drama, the one that has dominated the political scene for well over five hundred days. But what is really beginning to drag is the tedium of having the same crisis played out, over and over again.

Right from the beginning it was three things: the money, the expats and the Irish question. And now, after all that time, these same three things are dominating the headlines: the expats and the Irish question.

Now, though, we have the added delight of Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, telling us that "Brexit-backing politicians" had "not thought all this through" in the years they had been pushing for the UK to leave the EU. As if we didn't know.

But then, in a touch of déjà vu all over again, we have Varadkar tightening the screws on the British and putting Ireland front and centre of the negotiations – just as the hacks wanted to make it all about money, as they always do.

At the informal European Council in Gothenburg, Sweden, he warned that he will block progress of the Brexit negotiations to phase two unless he get a "formal written guarantee" that, come Brexit, there will be no hard border with Northern Ireland.

"We've been given assurances that there will be no hard border in Ireland, that there won't be any physical infrastructure, that we won't go back to the borders of the past", Varadkar said. "We want that written down in practical terms in the conclusions of phase one".

The slight problem with this is that the UK government hasn't the first idea of where to start on all this – hence their risible attempts to pretend that a hard border can be magicked away with new, all-singing, all-dancing technology.

As if that wasn't enough, déjà vu was also very much in evidence when Donald Tusk decided on a short statement, reminding us that internal preparations on the second phase of negotiations had started in October, covering "transition and the future relationship".

Thus, he said, "we will be ready to move-on to the second phase already in December. But in order to do that we need to see more progress from the UK side". Then repeating something we must have heard a hundred times or more, he told us: "While good progress on citizens' rights is being made, we need to see much more progress on Ireland and on a financial settlement".

The European Council President had earlier told Mrs May during a bilateral meeting that "this progress needs to happen at the beginning of December at the latest". He hoped some movement would be made by next Friday when the two leaders are due to meet again.

However, inside the warm, velvet glove was a fist of the best European steel. "If there is not sufficient progress by then", he said, "I will not be in a position to propose new guidelines on transition and the future relationship at the December European Council".

The previous day, we had had a particularly inane speech from David Davis in Berlin, which demonstrated nothing more than the simple fact that he doesn't have the first idea of how the EU works.

This is the man who thinks that the UK has made some "concessions" to the EU and, therefore, the EU should give us something back. Right from the start, these idiots have been treating the Brexit negotiations like a bargaining session in a souk. Now, having given something, the clever Mr Davis wants some "concessions".

Mr Tusk, on the other hand, wasn't in the mood to put him out of his misery. Referring to those "concessions", he told the media gathered at Gothenburg: "I can say only that I really appreciate Mr Davis's English sense of humour". If it hadn't been irony, one might have said that, in this, Tusk was very much on his own. We have long since tired of Mr Davis's "humour".

And so, we're back where we started, back where we've always been – making crises out of a drama and repeating them again and again. Yet, even in the unlikely event that the UK does make the cut in December, we're not out of the woods.

As has been long predicted, in another magnificent example of déjà vu we have been told that there is no chance of Mrs May's "deep and crisp and even" agreement. The best we can hope for is a Canada-like deal.

Barnier had already advised us of this, informing us that, "from the moment the UK told us that it wants out of the single market and the customs union, we will have to work on a model that is closer to the agreement signed with Canada". The Single Market, he said, "is a set of rules and standards and is a shared jurisdiction. Its integrity is non-negotiable, as is the autonomy of decisions of the 27. Either you're in or you're out".

When she departs this mortal coil, this needs to be etched on the gravestone of Mrs May and on those of her other faithful ministers and hangers-on. And now it isn't just Barnier. We're getting that in an internal discussion paper prepared by the European Commission, spelling out precisely the thing, that rejection of the Single Market puts us on the naughty step.

Bluntly, the Commission states that "single market arrangements in certain areas" or the "evolution of our regulatory frameworks" could not be managed within the EU body of law as it stands and therefore the UK would have to be satisfied with a "standard FTA".

This should be ringing alarm bells but, as we observed yesterday, the world out there has no conception of what a "standard FTA" really means. There is some dim appreciation of what "no deal" means, but the impact of stepping outside the Single Market simply hasn't sunk in.

Gradually, we see some elements being picked up in the media, done late and done badly, with usually only part of the picture given. What none of them are doing is putting the whole thing together. We see glimpses of the torment to come, but nothing of the scale of things to come is getting through.

So, instead, we get déjà vu all over again. Meanwhile our politicians prance and prattle about things of which they know little and fill the air with noise.

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Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
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