SINCE the Brexit vote, the front page of the Daily Express often reminds me of a bored child asking from the backseat of a car: “Are we there yet?” Almost every day there is an impatient headline demanding that we leave the EU now. Followed by a demand for more sweets.
So I wonder what this morning’s EU-themed words might be? Ah, here goes… “EU EXIT WILL BE GREAT SUCCESS.” Glad to see that one-track mind is still at work. And look at that old-style Express logo: “Get us out of the EU.”
The prime minister and her cabinet met at Chequers yesterday for their first post-summer gathering. Brexit was at the top of the agenda, as it will be for every such meeting into the misty blue distance until someone works out what is going on.
Theresa May repeated her favourite slogan, which is: “Brexit means Brexit.” You have to admit that this is brilliant. Tough, no-nonsense and succinct. And entirely meaningless.
For her equation to work, you have to know what equals what. And the thing about Brexit is that no one really has a clue. Not those who wanted it; and certainly not those who did not. We are all clueless together, united only in our lack of a clue.
May sounds in control when she says this, yet if you don’t know what Brexit means in the first place, it all falls down. I guess she means that Britain will leave in some form or other. And we knew that already. What we can’t grasp is the important shape bit. You know, how it will happen. And when. And whether afterwards we will be in or out of the shit.
I have a fancy that after the meeting that pro-Brexit ministerial threesome of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox were left alone around the table…
“Ah, she says what she means, does Theresa.”
“Means what she says.”
“But what does she, you know, actually mean?”
“What she says.”
“And what is she saying?”
“What she means…”
And so on possibly for all eternity, but you get the idea. This trio are sometimes referred to as the Three Musketeers, but I prefer a cornier version, the Three Must Get Out of Heres.
For some reason, Theresa May’s stance on Brexit brings to mind one of those eye-straining mathematical prints by MC Escher that were so popular in the Seventies. The ones where people walk around flights of steps at the top of a tower only to end up back where they started, ascending and descending and not getting anywhere.
Theresa May seems to be going forward with brisk determination, saying “Brexit Means Brexit” and ending up back in the same place, no nearer to finding the answer.
But she is at least high in the polls at the moment, much higher than Labour. Now nothing fills me with despondency more quickly that seeing the Tories on the rise. But really, Labour only has itself to blame. The party has spent weeks tearing lumps out of itself in a fairly pointless leadership race. And in all that time, the Tories have ruthlessly deposed one leader – David Who? – and held a leadership contest and chosen a winner.
Funnily enough, Labour seem to be trapped in an Escher drawing, too. They started out with this leadership contest because so many Labour MPs did not have faith in their party leader. Yet Jeremy Corbyn is on course to win easily – and his MPs still don’t have faith in him.
So Labour has walked up and down all those steps to end up in the same fruitless position. For however popular Corbyn is with his party membership, if his MPs don’t have faith in him, then what is supposed to be the main party of opposition will still be squabbling with itself rather that, you know, opposing. And that just won’t do.