I long for the day when my weekly column can be about something other than Brexit. But when I have allowed my thoughts to stray on the odd occasion of recent weeks I was immediately upbraided by serious-minded readers concerned that I was ignoring Brexit! I have thought of little else for the last three years at least.
So when I was ‘door-stepped’ on my way to a reception in No 10 Downing Street this week, I ironically told the BBC that I would make up my mind depending on the quality of champagne and canapes available at the reception. It looks as if irony does not translate to TV very well, as I received a number of emails from ‘outraged’ that I should be treating such a serious subject so flippantly!
What I meant, of course, was that my views are so clear and so clearly expressed to my constituents and others, that not the finest vintage champagne in the land could possibly make me alter my views.
In the end it was a very pleasant event in the grand reception rooms in No 10 looking out over all that’s left of the old Whitehall Palace (mainly the Real Tennis Court.) We had a long chat with the Prime Minister, but even then she was reluctant to raise Brexit. I had to do it for her and make sure that she was aware that people like me will simply not support her Brexit deal at very least unless and until she removed the obnoxious Northern Ireland backstop element to it. Even then, I would be a bit reluctant, as there are, in the analysis of the Spectator, 40 fatal flaws in the deal, for which we are paying out £39 billion. (£60 million per constituency – it would mend a lot of pot holes round North Wiltshire, or 26,000 nurses for forty years).
It’s been a week of Parliamentary shenanigans of one sort or another, and I am sure that will continue up to the meaningful vote on Tuesday. Assuming that she goes ahead with it (and nothing is certain in this fast-moving world), then she will without doubt lose. I hope that that will be enough to persuade the EU to change their stance and allow a modest level of renegotiation to occur, especially with, but not limited to, the backstop. If it does, I might - just might - be ready to support the deal, albeit with my fingers crossed and a clothes peg on my nose!
We all want to leave the EU on 29 March with a fair and agreed deal. And most of the details we need to thrash out on a wide variety of details - from air traffic control to the supply of medicines - have already been agreed. But if we are to persuade the EU negotiators to do the right thing, we have to hold out the possibility of leaving with no deal, and putting arrangements in place against that possibility. Only then might the EU negotiators who were crowing this week in a German newspaper that they had ‘won’ be forced to realise that they need a deal as much as we do, and so start to accommodate some of our demands.
It’s all there to play for, but we have to keep playing. And keep playing hard into injury time.