Escaping from Colditz was a doddle compared to getting out of Europe. What should be a simple matter of jumping the wall and moving off singing “born free” is beginning to look like mission impossible. Imagine a Colditz in which British captives were chained then charged for the chains.
Imagine a situation in which the weaker-willed prisoners constantly told their escape-minded colleagues that they’d never get out, that the wardens were doing what best for them and that the country outside the prison was full of fearsome beasts. Guards, happy to have their work done for them would only have to look fierce, and make occasional growling noises. No need to even allow prisoners into the exercise yard unless they bribed the wardens.
I’m not drawing a fair analogy with Brexit. I should acknowledge that both my imaginary Colditz and our much loved EU think they’re being run for our own good, though Colditz did that for free, the EU charges.
The real difference is not so much disagreements among the prisoners. If either set stood together, their prospects would be better. It’s that the commanders in Colditz knew what they were doing and had a single structure of command. The EU doesn’t and hasn’t. So it delays, plays for time by insisting on money before terms and why it’s so reluctant to open the Pandora’s box of twenty seven different demands with the Spanish demanding Gibraltar, Hungarians stopping British Goulash production and the Poles blocking poloney. That would be Smorgasbord politics and gruel for Britain.
The kernel of the problem is neither barbed wire nor blustering and bluffing. We want an early settlement so we can continue to trade. The EU wants delay so it can hold together. Brexit is only one of its problems. The single market won’t work if Germany insists on maintaining huge surpluses. The economy is kept going by money printing through Quantitative Easing which is a finite process. The Euro won’t work without a machinery of redistribution and a central budget which no one will agree to. The refugee problem cant be solved without an unacceptable burden sharing. The Greek, Italian and Portuguese debts are crippling without a write off which Germany won’t tolerate. Collectively they’re so far up a Euro creek they can’t afford to let anyone get into the lifeboats.
This is an ever growing mess, not an ever closer union. Anyone running such a shambolic organisation would delay, bluff and bluster as the EU is now doing. The real problem is the effects on the prisoners – sorry, the crew – sorry, Britain. Remainers still hope that the going will get so rough that we’ll give up and slink back to share the misery. Brexiters expect that it will build British hostility to the EU. Others might see virtue in everlasting negotiations or advocate a German approach to reparations; promise anything. Pay peanuts.
It will become an “I told you so” jamboree. Remainers will blame it all on Brexit, the Guardian on the Mail, the people on politicians and the Liberals on the stupidity of the nation, while the deadlock will force us into a British walk away, followed by an early election. None of that will help the poor old EU but if all it can do is fester and fiddle rather than than decide anything, who can?