Sketch: The trials of David Davis
What a year it’s been, eh Nigel?
Whatever you might think of it, 2017 has certainly been engaging. In the Chinese Zodiac, each year has an associated animal, with a related meaning. The tiger, for example, is meant to be enthusiastic and brave. The monkey is meant to be quick witted and mischievous.
But in a year of division and confusion, and with Donald Trump in the White House, it’s hard to escape the feeling that 2017 has been the year of the Farage.
It looks like he’s back. He’s even been threatening to take a break from wandering from US chat show to chat show, looking like the physical incarnation of Pepe the Frog, to return to UK politics – even if it was always slightly unclear what his role in UK politics was, apart from being often, but not always, the leader of UKIP.
Well, he’s not UKIP leader at the moment, not officially, but he’s been back on TV pronouncing the PM a failure. And watching him confidently asserting that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, you get the definite sense that it was a mistake to base our Brexit strategy on a Noel Edmonds game show.
But the good news is that, with Farage to motivate them, ministers have now made enough progress in Brexit negotiations to move on to the next bit of talks.
So what did they agree? Around £40bn in exit payments, further guarantees for EU citizens’ rights, and no ‘hard border’ in Ireland.
Beyond that, concern continues to bubble on whether the deal reached so far is legally binding. In fact, the EU actually claimed it wasn’t, while trying to reassure observers that the two teams had “shaken hands” on it with a “gentleman’s agreement” between David Davis and Michel Barnier.
That raised a number of questions, not least how anyone in the EU could be reassured by a gentleman’s agreement that’s reliant on David Davis. You might as well reach a verbal agreement with a mime.
And so it proved, with Davis undermining the deal almost immediately after striking it by downgrading it to a “statement of intent”.
This, obviously, was a terrible thing to do, and so Davis was forced to clarify, claiming that what he had meant to say was that it was “much more than just legally enforceable”.
But what can you do? For the EU, apparently, the plan is to ensure that guidelines for future talks were “Davis-proofed”. Presumably that means laminated. Next in his confidence-boosting campaign, Davis used an economic conference in Berlin to warn EU states that “putting politics above prosperity is never a smart choice” – which was certainly a bold move from a man about to hand over about £50bn because of stuff he read on a bus.
He then came under pressure from Wolfgang Krach, editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung, who asked about the UK Government’s domestic position, suggesting “your government gives off an impression of chaos and disorder”.
Well, the joke’s on you, Wolfgang, because this isn’t an impression.
Responding with the air of a man who is unaware you can access UK media in Germany, Davis pointed out that “every government has periods of turbulence”. Actually, quite a few of Davis’s problems seem to stem from this mistaken belief – that because he doesn’t read European media, they don’t read ours. He’s like a child who believes that, because they have their eyes covered up, no one can see them.
But to be fair to Davis, the point about all governments experiencing turbulence is actually true – it’s just that they don’t usually go so far out of their way to cause the turbulence. It’s sort of the difference between being caught in the rain and going storm chasing, with the UK Government now in the equivalent position of someone trapped in a barn, spinning high above the countryside, because they wanted to get a better look at the hurricane.
And so Davis was forced to clarify, yet again, the details of the deal, this time on LBC, where he decided to ask himself, live on air and apparently apropos of nothing, “What’s the requirement of my job? I don’t have to be very clever or know that much”. Of course the obvious response to this is: well, clearly. But should you need to be very clever to become a secretary of state? That’s arguably a better question.
But apparently intelligence isn’t the important bit. Continuing, he added, “Anybody can do details, I’ll let you do the details”, which seemed an odd thing to invite on national radio.
When you think about it, that’s more or less the UK’s problem summed up. We shouldn’t really be letting anyone else do the details. It was letting UKIP do the details that got us here, after all.
So what did Farage make of it all? For his part, the MEP labelled the deal “not acceptable”, before warning that it just allowed the UK to move on to “the next stage of humiliation”.
On that, he may well have been speaking for all of us. Roll on 2018.