Over the October break, I found myself sitting in a small bar in the southern French town of Vidauban, watching France let victory in the Quarter Final of the Rugby World Cup slip from their grasp against a tenacious, if somewhat fortunate, Welsh side. Seeing the agony etched on the faces of those around me felt uncomfortable.
I did my best, of course, to offer words of sympathy and consolation. Who better, after all, to counsel on dealing with the trauma of valiant failure and that “defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory” feeling than a lifelong Scottish sports fan?
Once it had been established that I was from the UK, however, the tide of sympathy and consolation began to flow in the opposite direction, as conversation inevitably turned to the subject of “Le Brexit”. It may have been deflection on the part of French rugby fans, desperate to erase quickly the memory of their painful defeat, but the bafflement of my hosts at events across the Channel seemed genuine enough.
“Mon dieu” and “catastrophe” featured heavily in the discussions, though the lamentable state of my French these days prevented me grasping the more colourful descriptions. It was almost enough, even at that time in the morning, to drive a man to pastis!
While it was good to have a few days away, having failed to achieve this over the summer, the benefits of the break were slightly undone by my inability to resist the temptation of taking the occasional peek at what was happening back home. Mon dieu, indeed.
At least the odds of the UK crashing out of the EU this week with ‘no deal’ have lengthened with news of a further Brexit delay until the end of January. As yet, though, we await confirmation on whether or not the Prime Minister has identified a preferred ‘ditch’ or if this promise is to go the way of some many others he has offered over the years.
What is now clear is that there is to be a General Election in early December. An election, of course, is not without its risks, and offers no guarantee of any particular outcome. However, the fact remains that the current UK parliament is paralysed: it is opposed to a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit, which is off the table for now, but equally there is insufficient support amongst MPs for a People’s Vote. As for the Prime Minister’s deal, this offers no advance on what Theresa May negotiated, simply replacing an Irish ‘backstop’ with a hard border in the Irish Sea, leaving Northern Ireland in a customs union and the rest of the UK outside. A remarkable achievement for any leader of the so-called Conservative and Unionist Party.
With the patience of EU Member States, notably France, wearing thin, the risk of the UK crashing out in February with ‘no deal’ is very real, unless there is a change in the make-up at Westminster. An election now is the only way of achieving that.
Howls of outrage initially from the Labour Party leadership were a little hard to fathom, given that Jeremy Corbyn has been demanding an election for months. His concern that an election would harm the chances of holding a People’s Vote he has consistently avoided supporting over the last three years, and for which there is no majority in parliament, was equally bizarre. During the course of this week, however, Mr Corbyn has swung in behind a December poll, removing the final obstacle to it happening.
Predicting the outcome, as with anything in British politics over recent years, is impossibly difficult. It does though offer an opportunity for voters to decide what sort of country we wish to be: one that is open, confident and outward looking, or one that looks in on itself and is defined by narrow nationalism.
As for the punters in the bar in Vidauban, like many they are struggling to understand how the UK has got itself into this position. Oh, to be able to refer the original decision to a TMO (Television Match Official) for review.