Nine days to go now until Britain files for divorce from Europe – or invokes Article 50, if you want to be technical about it (though no more than that number of people have actually read the text of Article 50 – including this writer – so ‘filing for divorce’ is as handy an analogy as any).
Theresa May made the announcement this morning, with the formal blessing of both Houses of Parliament.
In Brussels and London, I’ve no doubt that the whirring chorus of pencils being sharpened is already cutting the air of fetid offices stacked with legal files. The drone will go on for the next two years we’ve been told; or, according to some experts, ten or twenty years, or even as much as half a century. No one knows because this kind of thing has never been tried before.
More offensive implements than pencils are no doubt being sharpened, too, if only metaphorically, and assuming that press reports about the festering aggression among some of the protagonists are to be believed.
Now we shall see, we are all saying meaninglessly to ourselves and each other, though what it is that we actually expect to see is pretty much indefinable, and even if defined, for many of us will be pretty much incomprehensible. No doubt the media, like commentators at an endless football match, will keep us informed on the state of play.
Which team starts out as the favourite? Beats me, since both sides have been hiding their tactics so effectively that most of the opinions ventured by members of the public at present represent little more than the punt of a casual betting man – the kind who have an annual flutter on the Grand National (a steeplechase event, which involves, before deciding on a likely winner, guessing which horses will survive both race and life).
“It’s not a game, or a race,” one ardent Leaver snapped at me during a party over the weekend, offended that I should compare the process with a sporting event. Well, no, it isn’t a game, but it will be reported as if it is, and it will probably be played like one, complete with offside incidents, shirt-tugging, sending-offs and disputed penalties.
Is there a referee? Who might be found who would be neutral enough to do the job?
I’m guessing we will soon become acquainted with the names of the players on both sides; on the EU team whether they are confirmed Anglophiles or Anglophobes, and what kind of political beliefs have been attributed to them, and probably whether for breakfast they enjoy croissants or kippers. Some Frenchman, I seem to remember – though not so far as his name – has been elected captain of the EU team. He is someone who, it has been reported, resides firmly in the camp that regards Albion as perfidious by nature on the evidence of history.
So, the Brexit debate that failed to inform last year’s referendum – and has shed little light since – will now resume in earnest.
I have set out my stall already: I was a committed Remainer then, and have seen or heard nothing to change my view, which is that Britain is making a mistake that is potentially harmful, could be disastrous, and is at root utterly unnecessary.
The result may be none of these, but will anyone be saying when the result is known that the risk was worth taking after all? Perhaps all of us, though I doubt that the consensus will be that clear cut, or if there will be a consensus at all. The answer will not be in doubt in the editorial columns of the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Times and the Sun, where pan-Europeanism is institutionally regarded as much a danger to Britain as the outbreak of the Black Death in medieval times. (We can instead rely for a more balanced opinion from the Daily Mirror or the Guardian, although these days they have a combined readership that would have trouble, respectively, filling a church hall on bingo night, or a Labour Party rally to replace Jeremy Corbyn as leader with John McConnell.)
Mentioning the Labour Party isn’t altogether redundant because I think it’s a better-than-even bet that Theresa May will call a general election within the next six months.
“And so we beat on, boats against the tide …..” as F. Scott Fitzgerald might have said.