DUNCAN MACLAREN. Brexit beats pantomime for farce in the festive season.

The pantomime season is upon us in the fabled Kingdom.  For farce, Cinderella has moved over to give room on the political, rather than theatrical, stage to the xenophobic pantomime par excellence of “Brexit – Taking Back Control”, featuring your favourite panto characters. But to our tale… 

Just recently, Cinderella May was on track to surmount one of the major hurdles in the negotiations with those Ugly Sisters (in Brexiteers’ eyes) of the EU, Juncker and Barnier – the question of the avoidance of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. On the verge of breakthrough, Cinders received a phone call from Arlene Foster, the Wicked Stepmother of the DUP (aka the Medieval Orange Party of Ulster) which shores up the Tories in Westminster, to tell Cinderella that she was not going to the ball. Her arrangement was seen as currying up to the Irish Republic, led by the gay (and, therefore, hellfire-bound) Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. Cinderella had to announce that she wasn’t going to the ball just yet but hoped to do so later in the week.

Sure enough, she then came bleary-eyed out of a meeting which went into the wee sma’ hours of the appointed day, triumphantly adorned in a Union Jack ballgown that had been approved by the Ugly Sisters and designed by the Wicked Stepmother of the Medieval Orange Party of Ulster. The result is that the rights of EU citizens and UK citizens in the EU will be upheld (demanded by most sane people since the beginning of this bizarre process), that the divorce bill will be around the £39 to £49 billion mark and, according to a document which is a masterpiece of obfuscation, the border between the Republic and the North will be soft. If trade deals (the next stage hoped for by a Westminster bereft of the dongs of Big Ben) follow in early 2018, a system will be found to align “with the rules of the internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-Ireland economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement”, the latter guaranteeing peace on the island of Ireland.

The Medieval Orange Party of Ulster’s ten MPs can pull the rug from under Cinderella’s feet at any time to defeat the two Ugly Sisters and their EU regime, which is a little too Catholic and too pro-Irish for their taste. The Minister for Brexit, David “Puss in Boots” Davis, said this was a “statement of intent” and not “legally forceable” but recanted 24 hours later with a “hahaha, I had you there!” to the befuddled audience.

Meanwhile, back in England, as the UK now styles itself, Cinderella has had to accept the resignation of her closest confidant, Damien “The Good Fairy” Green, only a few weeks after he was named by the distinguished intellectual Catholic weekly, “The Tablet”, as Number One among the most influential Catholic lay men and women in the fabled kingdom. He is now certainly better known – but for all the wrong reasons. He resigned because of allegations about pornography on his work computer, alleged harassment of a female journalist and Tory staffer and lying to the press (now admitted by Cinderella’s best pal as true).

And did the audience like the deal arranged by Cinders? Well, the pro-Cinders faction cheered her as if she had married Prince Charming while the hard-line Brexiteers went apoplectic. They fear the fabled Kingdom will be humiliated by having to pay to leave and to accept EU sovereignty for a while, even after having left the stage and having no say in legislation – which it will have to accept in the transition phase which could last two years or more. Tory Prime Minister contender, Jacob “Jack the Giant Slayer” Rees-Mogg, said it would make England a “vassal state”, uttering the words of the Ugly Sisters, now transmogrified (geddit?) into the Giants of the EU Beanstalk,

Fee-fi-fo-fum!

I smell the blood of an English man

Be he alive or be he dead

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

On the sidelines, talking of vassal states, an Oxford don, Nigel Biggar, fired up by Brexit in the public domain, is now going to run a course on “Empire and Ethics” saying, in The Times (where else?)  how wonderful the British Empire was and how any guilt about the Empire is misplaced. I am sure indigenous Australians will be queuing up to experience that particular gig.

But to the end of our tale…… The panto comes to us from fairy tales and fairy tales are rooted in social reality so what is the economic and social backdrop to “Brexit – Taking Back Control” now bring played across the fabled Kingdom? Well, this show has already cost the taxpayers £350m. a week. This was the same amount that the Brexiteers claimed was being sent to the EU on a weekly basis and could instead be invested in the NHS – a chimera which the Good Fairy evaporated with one whisk of her wand soon after the vote which, incidentally, has cost the average worker a week’s wages so far and exeunt right has not even started.

Inflation has already gone from 0.4 per cent to 3.1 per cent, making panto tickets much dearer this year. With Barnier announcing there will be no room for financial services as part of a trade deal, the big loser will be Edinburgh where financial services count for 24 per cent of the remain-voting Scottish capital’s economy, in contrast to 6 per cent for London’s. Net migration has already fallen by 40 per cent, meaning that care services, the NHS, the tourist, agricultural and service industries are now searching for elves rather than humans with funny accents to fill the gap. We now hear that the fabled Kingdom’s security (i.e. spy) service, MI5, which used to star Judy Dench, is preparing to spy on our former EU friends as they could now become foes as close diplomatic ties are destroyed. This panto is in for a long run but it is obvious that it is already disastrous and will be even more so when we are eventually dragged out. I hear some of the better off in the audience chant “Oh no, it isn’t” while the majority now cry, “Oh, yes, it is”.

Duncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University but writes in a personal capacity from Glasgow.

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