Richard North, 19/12/2020  
 


There are quite obviously a number of "plays" going on, as the "future relationship" talks go into their "decisive" phase. One or another clever little pundit may correctly guess the outcome. This may already be pre-ordained, with the theatre being run to the end, to leave whatever message it is that the parties wish to convey.

Each party has, of course, its own constituency that it must satisfy and they necessarily have to play to their respective galleries, so we are left with a possible amalgam of real-life bartering and theatrics which are as tiresome as they are impossible to unravel.

If one is to assume that Barnier is playing a relatively straight bat, his address to the European Parliament yesterday is of some interest, especially the three points he makes at the core of his speech.

Firstly, he notes that it was the British who set the very short deadline to which the parties are now forced, by refusing in June any form of extension of the transition period.

Secondly, and at more length, Barnier describes the past nine months as "an extraordinary negotiation", never in the past undertaken on so many subjects, which "are at the heart of your resolutions and our mandate".

Even if we regret that the British did not want to go further, through an agreement, which we were ready to negotiate, on foreign policy, defence and cooperation, he says, it's their choice. It takes two to negotiate and to reach an agreement.

Nevertheless, Barnier concedes, the talks have covered a considerable field. On virtually every subject, the EU, he claims, has sought to establish new cooperation with the UK, in other forms, in a new framework, in areas where we have for 47 years worked and acted together under the Union.

That is why, he says, this partnership is unprecedented. Both by the time of negotiation – reminding us that it took four or five years to negotiate an even more modest agreement with Canada, or with Japan - and by the scope of the subjects dealt with.

Thirdly, Barnier says, in such an agreement, it is our mandate, it is your resolution, all the parts form a cohesive whole. There is no agreement on anything, as long as there is no agreement on everything. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

He then talks about resuming negotiations with David Frost and his team for a final attempt to find an acceptable agreement, in particular on the question of fisheries. But, as he prepares to leave the parliament, he tells MEPs that he and his team will not achieve anything "if everyone does not make a real and concrete effort to find a compromise".

From the outset, though, no-one can be sure that Johnson actually wants a deal or, if he does, whether he is prepared to compromise in what Barnier calls the "moment of truth". Johnson's current play might be tactical and then it might not. No-one outside the loop knows, and it is quite conceivable that Johnson doesn't know what he wants or, like everything else he touches, he is about to mess it up.

Nothing Johnson says in public (or at all) can be trusted. In his own little fantasy world, filtered through his vast ignorance, he lies not only to the world at large but to himself as well. The truth is his last utterance, until it is contradicted by the next.

According to published reports, Johnson burbles that it would be "difficult at first" if the UK were to be forced to trade on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January.

In truth, he probably doesn't have the first idea of what is involved. Time after time, he has demonstrated a slender grasp of the mechanics of government, and he doubtless has little perception of that WTO terms actually mean, and the fact that it is not possible for a sophisticated, developed economy to run on this basis.

But when you get a prime minister talking bollocks, at least one knows what one is dealing with. It makes little difference whether he's lying or telling the truth – not that he would know the difference. The outcome is going to be garbage whatever he does.

Needless to say, he trips out the usual platitudes. "Our door is open. We'll keep talking". But, he then burbles, "I have to say that things are looking difficult. And there’s a gap that needs to be bridged. We’ve done a lot to try and help, and we hope that our EU friends will see sense and come to the table with something themselves".

Since none of us have seen the small-print, as the leaks from the coal face are incomplete and may be deliberately slanted, or even planted, none of us are in a position to know precisely what is going down. But it is Johnson who is a congenital liar. If he says it is the EU that must "see sense", it could just as well be the other way round.

As for Johnson's facile little mantra about being able to "prosper mightily", between his shambles on Covid, and his botched Brexit, the only people showing any signs of prospering – and then, mightily indeed – are his cronies and sponsors, who seem to have their fingers embedded in the government till, up to their armpits.

For the rest of us mere plebs, we have to suffer the fantasy world of Johnson's dressing up sessions, as he appears in yet another costume, with or without a hard hat, to play his silly little games at our expense, while delivering some homily which, in this household, is invariably drowned out by expletives.

That said, it is even possible that this charade might not end on Sunday, as the game is played to the wire, when we finally get to know whether there is a deal on the day before the new year.

Such would be typical of a man who, in his tawdry life of journalism, had difficulty getting to grips with the concept of a deadline, and consistently ran late in everything he did. Carrying this over into politics, he seems intent on ruining everyone's Christmas, with his sheer incompetence and disregard for the conventions by which everyone else tries to live.

How it is that anyone – much less Barnier – is still taking this shambolic wreck of a man seriously is one of those unfathomable mysteries, although I suppose a man occupying the office of prime minister still commands some residual respect from those who have to deal with him on an official level.

The certainty, though, is that if Johnson does not settle a deal pretty soon, the UK will be royally screwed. The only question will be how badly, and for how long. As an island nation, international trade is our lifeblood and to close off the arteries bodes us no good at all.

The one thing we simply cannot survive, without serious trauma, is Johnson's ideas of "WTO terms". And if at this late stage, he doesn't know that, and doesn't know that Barnier and the rest of the EU are equally well aware of the impossibility of resorting to such terms, then we are in a pretty dire situation.

But then, that was always going to be the case when the Conservative Party selected this oaf as its leader, and the nation was presented with the choice of him or Corbyn at the general election. Now we are about to pay the price and, from the look of it, it will be extremely steep.

The small consolation is that I will be able to say "I told you so", not that that will have any impact or make things better. But, as we run down the clock, watching the oaf make his vacuous plays, that's about all that is left to us. Whatever the final details, the damage is already done.

Also published on Turbulent Times.






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