The depths to which UK diplomacy has sunk were laid bare today, as the best efforts of Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay resulted in nothing more than a re-run of the Monty Python Fish Licence sketch, but without the laughs. For weeks, EU negotiators asked for the UK to come up with actual proposals for an alternative to the so-called Irish Backstop, and today was the day that one was finally ponied up.
But here a problem entered: all that Barclay had on offer was the previous Withdrawal Agreement, with the Backstop crossed out. Sam Coates of Sky News had noted this earlier this month: “A source says draft legal text is just the existing protocol with the relevant articles on the backstop crossed out”. The ridicule was quick to arrive.
Paul Bernal of the UEA countered “‘That’s not a cat license, it’s a dog licence with the word ‘dog’ crossed out and “cat” written in in crayon’. We’re living in a Monty Python sketch”. Yet on ploughed Barclay, no doubt as instructed by alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his chief polecat Dominic Cummings.
So it was that Rowena Mason of the Guardian told earlier this week “Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiators have so far only presented the EU with a draft of the withdrawal agreement with the backstop scrubbed out, UK government sources have confirmed”. They were still pushing that Cat Licence. Why would they do that?
Ah well. According to Ms Mason, “Johnson’s team are refusing to put forward a written proposal to Brussels at this stage for fear it will be rejected out of hand or publicly rubbished … There have been reports that David Frost, the UK’s lead negotiator, is keeping a plan locked safe in his briefcase but the wording has not been shared with Brussels”. We have a plan, but exactly what it is, we’re not going to tell anyone.
Now, though, the EU side has had enough, as the Independent has reported. “The European Union has rejected a request from the British government for a Brexit deal without an Irish backstop in”. Worse, it was revealed that Barclay had wanted to move the goalposts, too: “Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Thursday said the UK should be given until the end of 2020 to come up with a replacement for the policy - instead of the end of September deadline set by EU leaders”. Having cake and eating it. Again.
So let’s recap: the UK side knows that it either agrees to the Backstop, or puts forward a credible alternative. It’s hasn’t, and it hasn’t. The proposals must be put forward by the end of the month. They haven’t been, and now we are asking the EU to sign up to our version, with the vague suggestion that we’ll have that alternative in place by December next year.
Our Government, or whatever passes for one right now, is either collectively naive, collectively stupid, or just not bothering - while the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit comes ever closer. All they have to offer right now is “a dog licence with the word 'dog' crossed out and 'cat' written in in crayon”. Except without the laughs. Again.
And they, along with the media establishment, wonder why voters don’t take them seriously. Perhaps they ought to give their collective heads a shake. And very soon.
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