Mince, a toad and a sow’s ear

When Dominic Cummings, the former director of Vote Leave, called David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus” he was kind of missing the point. Even if Davis was as wise as Solomon, as busy as a bee and as humble as somebody too humble for you to have even heard of, it wouldn’t matter.

The main problem with Brexit isn’t the competence of the people trying to carry it out. The problem is that the flawed idea is predictably falling apart at the proof of concept stage. Arguing about the who’s the best person to deliver Brexit is as pointless as arguing about whether Alice or Bob could brew a better pot of tea in a chocolate teapot.

What’s in Mr Tumble’s spotty bag?

According to the headline writers, David Davis “uses spy-proof briefcase to stop snoopers accessing Brexit secrets.” Which does make me wonder what he keeps in there in there. I’m guessing:

  • One copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People (unread)
  • Several packets of extra soft tissues, for those meetings where you go in telling everybody how you’re going to show the other guy who’s boss, then have to slink out in abject humiliation and cry yourself to sleep
  • Lots of Prozac (see above)
  • A few of those old Commando war comics from the good old days, when Britain’s opponents did the decent thing and died yelling “Donner und blitzen!”, rather than just looking pitying and exasperated like these dastardly Eurocrats
  • A pair of noise-cancelling headphones, to be worn for the whole duration of the Brexit negotiations
  • A large supply of spare underpants (brown)
  • Several passport application forms from countries that still have a chance of not turning into ungovernable basket cases after March 2019



Image © BBC, but I’m, saying fair use. So there.

Oi! Davis! Where’s your Dunkirk spirit?

Christopher Nolan’s wartime epic, Dunkirk, goes on release next Friday. Although the Second World War and the Dunkirk evacuation in particular loom large in Brexit mythology, it seems to me that the Brexiteers haven’t learned anything very useful from their obsession with this part of history. Which is a shame, because David Davis, in particular, could benefit from a bit of the old Dunkirk spirit.

The reason why Dunkirk is worth remembering and celebrating is because is represents a particular brand of courage. The courage needed to face up to reality when a plan isn’t coming together. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been outmaneuvered and beaten. There was no realistic prospect of it achieving its strategic goals.

The British were faced with two options – reinforce a hopeless position and waste more blood and treasure, with no prospect of victory, or plan an orderly withdrawal, saving as many as could be saved from death or capture. We only celebrate Dunkirk as a success because the British chose the latter option, saving around 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops.

As well as the many, Britain saved the few, when Fighter Command’s Hugh Dowding resisted sending more pilots to France and withdrew the ones already there – if he’d thrown more of his men and machines at the battle of France, he could easily have lost the Battle of Britain.

David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator is now in the same position as the BEF, in chaotic retreat, outmaneuvered by an opponent he has no realistic prospect of beating. The courageous thing to  do at this point would be to put the needs of the country first and save what can still be saved, rather than putting the nation in peril by throwing away its remaining reserves. Seriously, David, take yourself off to the movies and think hard about what you see:


The cake is a lie

This week started on an optimistic note. There were signs that the Brits were becoming slightly less delusional about this whole having-your-cake-and-eating-it idea.
That was from Dan Roberts in Monday’s Graun.

But, no, the UK’s head of financial regulation, Andrew Bailey, apparently didn’t get the memo:

Does Brexit have to mean abandoning the benefits of free trade and open markets in financial services? It should not.

Does it require membership of the single market to get the benefits of free trade with the EU? No.

Does Brexit mean abandoning the use of regulatory co-operation to ensure sufficient alignment of standards and outcomes so that open markets can prevail? It should not.

Shouldn’t it? The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, begs to differ:

I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible.
I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.
The decision to leave the EU has consequences and I have to explain to citizens, businesses and civil society on both sides of the Channel what those consequences mean for them.

These consequences are the direct result of the choice made by the UK, not by the EU. There is no punishment for Brexit and of course no spirit of revenge. But Brexit has a cost, also for business in the EU27, and businesses should assess with lucidity the negative consequences of the UK choice on trade and investment and prepare to manage that.

Maybe David Davis can expain to Michel Barnier why the EU should grant Andrew Bailey’s wish list and let the UK contiue to enjoy the benefits of EU and single market membership without any of the obligations. Second time lucky? I’m not holding my breath.