So, is that Brexit finally done then? And yes, sorry, we’re going to have to talk about Brexit, at least for a bit. Well, it’s looking possible that nearly seven years after the referendum the final piece of the Brexit jigsaw (14,236 pieces, all of them tiny and some have already been eaten by the dog and lost behind a radiator) may just be ready to slot into place. Barely mentioned during the halcyon days of the referendum campaign, the question of how to manage trade into Northern Ireland given its border with the EU has toppled Prime Ministers, suspended parliaments and generally been a colossal pain in everyone’s behind. After Theresa May said that no British PM could countenance a “border in the Irish Sea’, her successor Boris Johnson established a border in the Irish Sea. Cue outrage from Unionists in Northern Ireland who withdrew from powers sharing in the province . . . and so on.
But this week, it seems that the current Prime Minister may have finally cracked this nut with the unveiling of his “Windsor Framework”; a new model for trade into Northern Ireland that has been agreed with the EU. If it works, this will be a stunning victory for Sunak. And if so, it will also have been a victory for a different approach to negotiations. Lucky for you, we’ve been handed the transcript from a recent meeting between Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
RISH: Ola! Ich hiesse Rishi. J’habite a Londres.
URS: Good morning Rishi.
RISH: Guten jour indeed. Te gustaria un cup of tea?
URS: We can speak in English, it’s fine. Really.
RISH: Oh mais non! Ich mag les languages et el dinero.
URS: I’m not sure I quite understand.
RISH: I like your hair.
RISH: Your hair. It’s lovely. Lustrous and full of bounce. Do you take two trade protocols into the shower?
URS: No, I just wash my hair and EU . . .
RISH: That joke doesn’t work for two reasons. One, it requires knowledge of shampoo commercial from the mid 90s and it’s now 2023 and two, “EU” doesn’t sound enough like “go”.
URS: I tried.
RISH: Anyway, I’d really like to sort out le probleme de Ireland Nord, bitte.
URS: Sure, let’s talk.
And so on. Many days later, the pair appeared to announce the deal, UVL met the King (not without controversy) and everything seemed fairly rosy in the garden of EU-UK relations. Compare Rishi’s negotiating technique with that of his predecessor, who in talks was represented by David Frost, not that one. And yes luckily, we have a transcript for these talks too – who would have thought it?
URS: Hello David. Won’t you sit down?
FROST: WHAT DID YOU SAY? YOU WANT ME TO SIT DOWN? THAT’S TYPICAL OF YOU EU TECHNOCRATS! WHY ON EARTH WOULD I WANT TO SIT ON AN EU CHAIR?
URS: I thought it might make the negotiations more comfortable. It’s from Ikea, it’s not the best but it’s pretty decent.
FROST: SO YOU ADMIT IT! BRITISH DESIGN IS THE ENVY OF THE WORLD.
URS: Ikea is Swedish.
FROST: A LIKELY STORY! I WENT TO IKEA IN WEMBLEY ONLY LAST WEEK AND QUEUED FOR AN HOUR IN THE CARPARK. I LOVED EVERY MISERABLE SECOND. IKEA IS AS BRITISH AS CORN FLAKES OR CAMEMBERT.
URS: Er . . .
FROST: SO ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE US A DEAL OR NOT YOU BUNCH OF SWARTHY UNMENTIONABLES? OKAY FINE, DO YOU WHAT YOU WANT. EVERYONE KNOWS YOU HATE US. YOU CAN TAKE YOUR DEAL AND STICK IT IN YOUR PAELLA OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU EAT IN BRUSSELS.
URS: Sprouts. We eat sprouts.
FROST: SPROUTS? YOU CAN’T GET MORE BRITISH THAN SPROUTS . . .
URS: (It was un joke).
So it turns out, that being nice to people gets you further in life than rabidly slagging them off. Who would have thought it? One last bit of Brexit chat and this really can’t go unmentioned because it is, quite something. Also, I am not the only one to point this out, far from it but it’s worth repeating because, as I say, it’s quite something.
The day after Sunak announced the Windsor Framework he hopped over to Northern Ireland itself where in a speech to local business leaders he told them of their unique position with privileged access to both the UK and the EU single market.
“No one else has that. No one. Only you guys. Only here”.
Pop quiz: can you think of anywhere else that shared this “privilege” until relatively recently? Um . . . . .
Footnote 1: Rishi Sunak voted “leave” in the referendum.
Let’s move on. Please. Other news this week included the leak of thousands of WhatsApp messages from jungle superstar and erstwhile Health Secretary Matt Hancock. I say leak, that’s not quite the whole story. Hancock gave the messages to journalist Isabel Oakeshott to help with her research on book they are (or presumably in the circumstances WERE) co- writing about the pandemic. Oakeshott has now given all these messages to the Daily Telegraph because “it’s in the public interest”.
Safe to say if anyone leaked my WhatsApp messages to the Daily Telegraph, the headlines would be less than revelatory:
“Can you buy milk? And bin bags. Don’t forget like last time”.
“Sorry pal. Can’t make Thursday ales. Babysitter has Covid. For the fifth time. I think she may just have better things to do”
“Does anyone remember The Brittas Empire? Watched an ep on YouTube. Turns out it was f****** awful”
But given what was happening at the time, Hancock’s messages carry a little more heft and significance. There’s too much to sift through but lowlights include personally arranging lateral flow tests to be sent to Jacob Rees-Mogg; Gavin Williamson being horrible about teachers (he was Education Secretary at the time) and the thought that maybe the government would have to cull all cats.
Not much room for “other news” this week. In brief, there’s still no cucumbers; an official report said that MI5 massively screwed up in failing to arrest the Manchester Arena bomber whose attack killed 22 innocent concert-goers; Harry and Meghan are being chucked out of the cottage in Windsor in which they they no longer live and the Glastonbury headliners have been announced: Arctic Monkeys, Elton John and Guns ‘n’ Roses (who apparently are not dead). A victory for diversity.
Sad news that Steve Mackey, bassist of Pulp died this week. It’s quite a moment for one’s own sense of mortality when members of your favourite bands begin to pass away and aged only 56 too. Pulp in their pomp were near-peerless; reductively swept into the Britpop pile, the band was sexy, smart and fiercely authentic. And what tunes too. Pulp will play some shows this summer; they will be glorious I’m sure but following Mackey’s death, they’ll be sad too.
I could have picked any of 50 songs but here’s a piece of brilliance from the album His ‘n’ Hers.