The game of chess can either end in checkmate or stalemate. With negotiations deadlocked, BREXIT negotiations are now being described as a stalemate. Stalemate means that a player not in check can only move into check. No-one loses. The result is a draw. Checkmate occurs when a player’s King is both in check and will be captured wherever it moves. Someone wins. Someone loses. You can’t be stalemated and checkmated at the same time.
If it is a real stalemate the UK loses the game; “no deal” is a disaster. So the Tories have managed to get the UK stalemated and checkmated at the same time. They have pulled off an impossible feat. No wonder they engage in magical thinking. The UK government has not acquitted itself well nor even understood the rules of the game and the thinking behind their opponents’ moves. Pity the poor civil servants who negotiated and played skillfully but to no avail.
But who cares whether chess terms give a true picture of the mess we are in? Not the Conservative Party, which like the Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass, manages to believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. Our Prime Minister, due for a great fall, adopts the worldview of Humpty Dumpty: “a word means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less”. Which is just what the incantation “BREXIT means BREXIT” means – if you see what I mean. “The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all”.
The Brexiteers, led by the European Research Group (ERG), disport themselves in this magical Wonderland. For example, when they first got into a corner over a hard border in Ireland, mere mention of the words “latest technology” was supposed, in one mighty bound, to get them out of it. Drones hovering over Crossmaglen would count cows crossing the Republic’s border. Artificially Intelligent customs robots in roadside haystacks in Armagh, or on ferries to Stranraer, would register the country of origin of goods. Or something like that. Then they shifted to producing a weighty tome on less-techy bureaucratic controls with electronic form-filling in factories. And all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well. Just saying it makes it happen. Because, you see, it’s MAGIC.
In case you hadn’t realized it, CanadaPLusPlus is Brexiteer for Abracadabra. Just speak the words. They trip nicely off the tongue. If the spell doesn’t work, all you need do is a “pivot”. This is clever new trick from the National Association of ERG Magicians. It means magically getting the EU and Parliament to accept another unworkable solution to the problems thrown up by BREXIT. The Merlin Award this year should go to the inventor of “The Pivot”. Deciding you have made a calamitous mistake and radically taking the situation in hand with firm leadership? Well, we all know no ERG magician would hold their audience for one minute with that kind of performance.
The magicians of the ERG cannot, or will not, recognize that the EU starts off with principles and deductively comes to policy decisions. And then mean what they say. Whereas Little England starts off with the incantation “BREXIT means BREXIT”, and ends with touches of World War II nostalgia, standing alone, getting by with only a ball of string, duct tape, flack jacket, and lots of jolly optimism…. and, if desperate, some latest technology.
Under pressure, a principle may emerge like a genie out of the bottle of pragmatism; for example there can be no “economic separation of Northern Ireland from the UK” (Prime Minister) or, if you prefer our more colourful Attorney-General, be “torn out of the UK”. But some economic difference is an inevitable product of devolution. In addition, the Democratic Unionists (DUP) celebrate having laws different from those of the rest of the UK: notably their own restrictive laws on abortion and gay marriage. These two big issues are apparently less important than the remote – backstop - possibility of being legally consigned to a customs arrangement different from that of post-BREXIT Great Britain.
To jog your memory, the DUP are supposed to be governing Northern Ireland alongside Sinn Fein rather than taking bungs from Theresa May and threatening the UK government about the direction of BREXIT negotiations. The checkmated player has two possible ways to behave: stomp off in a huff after knocking the board over or politely shake hands. The DUP can expect to forfeit respect when they threaten the former. They could, though, shake hands on the UK remaining in a/the Customs Union and Single Market, the only possible solution, barring a short-term fudge, to a clash of two irreconcilable principles.
How many legions has the DUP? They only won 28 out of the 90 seats in the 2017 Stormont Legislative Assembly elections, just 28.1% of the votes cast. And remember, 56% of the Northern Irish referendum vote was for Remain. Are we really going to let the future of the United Kingdom be determined by ten DUP members in the London Parliament plus the ERG? Perhaps the DUP should pivot to concentrate on doing the job they were elected to do in Northern Ireland: co-governing the province on behalf of all its citizens in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, an International Treaty. For, as I’m sure all good Ulster men and women would agree, the Devil makes work for idle hands.