The thing that fascinates about the Chequers ‘deal’ is how the word ‘deal’ ever got pressed into service in the context rather than, say, proposal, plan, pipedream or perfidy.
When the ‘deal’ emerged on July 7 it was the result of ministerial arm-twisting so severe as to cause some broken limbs. But Theresa May had visited Angela Merkel in Berlin and as we now know probably did a nice little dance to set a gemütlich tone. The upshot, we were told, was that beneficent Angela, always ready to help a British prime minister at every turn, said: ‘Yo! You go, girl!’
However, her subsequent pronouncements on Brexit and the Chequers sell-out have been sparse and noticeably less than effusive, so maybe what Merkel said was more like ‘Whatevs, Liebling’.
For the proposal to deserve being called a deal, the EU needed to show traces of enthusiasm. Fashions in language as in everything else can change but accepted usage is still that there needs to be more than one party to a deal and this being so, it would have been handy to get a positive reaction from Brussels.
‘Hot diggity dog, Thérèse, but you have absolutely nailed it!’ an excited Michel Barnier might have cried after two years of solid prevarication. Only he didn’t. Instead he gave an interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last Sunday to say that the proposal was pants. The following day, in time for Parliament’s return on Tuesday, the owlish Barnier (who is the antithesis of the Man from Del Monte,
celebrated for saying ‘Yes!’), repeated the same message to members of the DExEU Select Committee in Brussels. This has considerably chuffed the European Research Group’s cock of the walk, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who believes that eurosceptics and Mr Barnier are in greater agreement than eurosceptics and the Government or Mr Barnier and the Government.
May’s charm offensive, which TCW readers were warned about last month, went ahead as predicted, with Conservative HQ lashing out on a whole new book of stamps to send letters to the party membership, plus invitations to Downing Street or phone calls to the Prime Minister for constituency bigwigs.
Surely all this effort and goodwill cannot have counted for nothing? Surely if the Prime Minister and party chairman Brandon Lewis urged paid-up members to have faith then confidence would inevitably build?
Alas, no. Never in the annals of porcine history has so colossal a pig been promised in so minuscule a poke, and a survey published by Conservative Home on Monday made this painfully clear.
The September results show precious little change from the position in the survey conducted in August. In fact eagle-eyed observers will notice that the percentage hostile towards the Chequers charade is actually a touch higher and, depressingly after all the explanations, the percentage of those who don’t know has gone up too. It’s not just pairing at which Brandon Lewis is rubbish.
With a European summit coming later this month, at which she has to try to make a pitch to EU heads of government, and a looming party conference where there is just as much chance of her premiership collapsing as of the stage set, one could almost bring oneself to feel sorry for May. The fact that one can’t is largely because she wanted this job at which she is so spectacularly inept and underqualified. It requires of her a range of qualities and characteristics that she simply never possessed. Not even close.
The harsh truth now which she is too stubborn to recognise is that she must either bury her Chequers ‘deal’ or it will bury her.