THE odd thing about hay fever is that it is generally not caused by hay, nor is it a fever. So it is with May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which is rather a capitulation than an agreement and less a withdrawal than a continued association on worse terms.
The Withdrawal Agreement approved by May’s spavined cabinet is a misshapen and crippled thing that will have pretty much gone phut unless she and the EU can agree a form of words that satisfies MPs prepared to stand by their 2017 manifesto commitments in general and the DUP in particular.
Imagine for a moment you’re in a restaurant where you make your choice. The waiter returns two and a half hours later to say that chef is desolated but finds himself unable to prepare your meal. Would you like perhaps one of chef’s new experimental signature fusion dishes compiled by renowned gastronome Barnier and œnophile Juncker: perhaps ‘Le Dîner du Chien’ or maybe ‘Le Petit-Déj du Cochon’?
The answer obvious to all but the mutton-headed people we elect to Parliament is that chef should be replaced by somebody more adept at wielding the skillet, and please be done with the rannygazoo and deliver the order.
Focus in Westminster has been ebbing and flowing around the possibility of a fresh referendum branded as the People’s Vote and promoted by that sanctimonious humbug Tony Blair and his insalubrious henchman Alastair Campbell, for whom one dodgy prospectus was never going to be enough.
The handle ‘People’s’ represents a late flowering of the now creaky spin machine that originally gave us ‘The People’s Princess’ but lacked the brass neck to serve up ‘The People’s Search for Saddam’s WMD’ and the subsequent ‘People’s War Waged to no Popular Acclaim’. The People’s International Criminal Court in The Hague perhaps has unfinished business with these two.
But enough of our endless inward-looking Brexitry and our one-legged Prime Minister kicking the can down the road.
How are things looking from the hallowed halls of the Berlaymont, where kicking cans down the road is so much part of everyday life that cankickery has become an art form?
The waning influence of Angela Merkel seemed to Emmanuel Macron like the perfect opportunity for him to assume effective leadership of the EU. The French tend to respect intellectualism in a way that the British don’t, which is why it is possible for a man such as Macron to pose successfully as someone with unique insights and vision by being largely unintelligible with grand-sounding abstractions.
Alas for him, the yellow vests have given their verdict on his vision to the extent that his political and physical stature are now perfectly aligned. In a matter of weeks Macron has morphed from a Roland Barthes into Bart Simpson, and initiatives which he sought to promote on an EU level – the European Army and deregulation of energy prices for example – despite opposition from other member states are now consigned to the pending tray where EU initiatives gently macerate for lack of political support.
So the EU is without an external political heavyweight to replace the edentate Merkel. Internally, Martin Selmayr (who rejoices in the soubriquet ‘The Beast of the Berlaymont’), the top man of the EU Commission’s administrative machine, is under intense fire. The European Parliament has called for his resignation in a landslide vote. This follows the rushed and murky appointment of Juncker’s sidekick to this critical role, and a subsequent excoriating report from the EU’s own watchdog decrying the cronyism and abuse of process.
And what of Juncker himself? He has once again made a spectacle of himself, this time at an EU-African dinner in Vienna where either his sciatica was giving him serious gyp, as it did at the NATO summit, or he partook of too many liquid schnitzels. The Austrian press photographers were on hand.
The arm-wrestling between Rome and Brussels over the Italian budget deficit has been resolved, but not in a way that mirrors the Greek drubbing. While it is true that Italy has given ground, the planned deficit is still above 2 per cent, compared with the 1.8 per cent the previous Italian administration had conceded and the Commission was insisting upon.
Here, too, Macron’s failure domestically has had knock-on effects for the EU. The concessions to the yellow vests mean that France will be running a budget deficit greater than the permitted 3 per cent, so a tougher line with Italy would have lacked credibility and consistency. Spot the rules-based system bending like a reed.
The elections to the European Parliament take place next spring and there is every reason for the EU to fear that rebarbative Right-wing and/or populist blocs will enliven the amphitheatres of peripatetic blockishness. Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini have been on joint manoeuvres for some while now so there is good reason to think that the new intake will be less likely simply to guzzle up their expenses and allowances and might make life more interesting and hence harder for the EU Commission.
There is so much more –including the eventual, inevitable and ugly collapse of the single currency – but perhaps the best closing thought for 2018 is that Romania is about to take on the rotating presidency of the EU in January and has clearly signalled that it is fed up with being treated by Brussels as some kind of poor relation which should know its place.
But coming back to Brexit for a second, here’s something to fill yuletide hearts with joy: it emerges that any restrictions on routes and landing rights for UK aviation will have serious repercussions for the national carriers of both Ireland and Spain, who belong to the same corporate entity as British Airways. If BA, Easyjet and the rest are not permitted to operate routes within the EU, then the only flights that Aer Lingus and Iberia can fly in Europe will be to London and other non EU airports. Come here, my non-negotiable and rules-based foot, and let me shoot you!