If sport – any sport – serves a useful function these days, it is in taking minds off the relentlessly tiresome topic of Brexit.
Over the weekend, England thrashed Australia on the rugby field, always a joyful occasion, and these days a common one. Wales weighed in by whipping South Africa and Scotland beat Argentina. The previous weekend Ireland clobbered the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand. All of which served to confirm beyond any doubt that the rugby playing nations of the Northern Hemisphere, and the British Isles in particular, have now, after suffering years of humiliating defeats, caught up with the Southern Hemisphere. Meanwhile England’s cricketers secured a rare away series win against Sri Lanka.
But still Brexit won’t go away.
We all awoke on Monday morning to find out that the European Union’s heads of state had unanimously – some would say gloatingly -approved the terms of the divorce with Britain, rather marring what should have been Theresa May’s moment of triumph by declaring that the deal is offered as a take-it-or-leave it basis, thereby closing off the last of that intrepid woman’s escape hatches.
“We told you what a bunch of hard-nosed ungrateful bastards they were,” declared the hard-line Brexiteers, unhappy with both the terms and Mrs May, to the point of outrage with both. Equally upset, for a variety of different reasons, were the Remainers, who failed to see the point in Britain leaving the EU at all if it stayed in but had no voice in its governance. Britain, they say, has emerged from the negotiations half-pregnant. Some might say that seems only appropriate since half the country wants to leave and the other half remain.
The political commentators have spent weeks doing mathematical calculations and concluded almost unanimously that all that is left of this phase of the divorce proceedings is for parliament duly to throw the deal out, though none can agree what will happen after that. The apparent options, all of them with consequences that will likewise please nobody, are:
(1) Britain leaves the EU without a deal;
(2) Britain simply stays in the EU until negotiations could be reopened at some unspecified future date;
(3) A second referendum is held;
(4) Theresa May resigns and a general election is called.
Option 1 is considered by all but hard-liners as unsatisfactory in the extreme. Business leaders would be particularly aghast, as the economic consequences would be incalculable and market responses potentially severe. The nightmare scenario would be a Britain desperate to find new markets with no bargaining power, in the process becoming something of a laughing stock in the world – hardly the kind of atmosphere calculated to attract much-needed foreign investment.
Option 2 would be a purely stop-gap solution, and would resolve none of the divisions that have immobilised politicians and businessmen alike. It has been considered even by some right-wing politicians, including – astonishingly – the former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who may now be considered a traitor to the Brexit cause, but prepared to pay that price by enhancing his prospects as a moderate candidate to succeed Mrs May.
Option 3 seems unlikely, although Jeremy Corbyn, among several other front-line members of the Shadow Cabinet, seem to be flirting with the idea. What decision or decisions voters would be asked to make does not seem to have been thought through. In any event, the result could not be predicted.
Option 4 seems increasingly likely to some observers, on the grounds that a humiliating defeat in parliament would make it difficult for Mrs May to continue in office. An election would make a great many Conservative members of parliament nervous, and so ought to be avoided at all costs. Naturally the Labour Party would welcome one; confident voters would be happy to deliver a fatal blow to an incompetent government in total disarray.
The ‘morning-after’ symptoms usually wear off quickly, but not these. More Monday-morning hangovers to come, I fear.