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We've got a von der Leyen condition

Brendan O'Connor



European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: John Thys/AP

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: John Thys/AP

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: John Thys/AP

Now that the worst thing that could possibly happen had happened, politics had one mission. Politics had to put its mind to it and figure out how it could make things even worse.

It wasn't easy, but they figured it out. Let's layer a Brexit on top of a pandemic and see what happens. Covid hits worst where there is an underlying condition. And in our case we have a von der Leyen condition.

Who would have thought that overgrown public schoolboys and smug, superior mittel-Europeans would each prove so adept at that most Irish of arguing tactics, the passive-aggressive style of engagement?

So Boris keeps telling us that he wants to make a deal with "our European friends", while Ursula assures us she wants to offer "our British friends" access to the European market. No doubt, somewhere in the bowels of the EU, there is a bureaucrat with responsibility for straight bananas and related matters preparing a trade descriptions case about the use of the word 'friend'.

In case we hadn't noticed the Europeans being passive aggressive, they pointedly served Boris fish when he went to Brussels. And in case we didn't know the British were being passive aggressive, Boris's greeting to Michel Barnier when he arrived for his fish supper was to 'jokingly' accuse Barnier of giving him Covid.

No wonder everyone was longing for Angela Merkel, the only adult left, to wade in and bang some heads together.

But, of course, Boris knows what he's doing. The reality of Brexit for the UK has never really sunk in. Even with no-deal potentially imminent, we hear horror stories about how British business isn't remotely prepared, the ports will be carnage and the British economy, already on the floor after Covid, will suffer even more. But those are mere facts.

Boris knows facts are no match for a good story. In a post-religious world, starved for meaning, a good myth that everyone can rally around is a powerful thing. So if you can fire people up with a story of sovereignty and great British fish, all the dull facts in the world won't put them off. 'Cos sovereignty is a feeling, innit? Boris is a feeling, Brexit is a feeling, and you can't fight a feeling with mere facts.

Our own Government discovered that itself last week as it struggled to articulate all these boring facts about the legalities of public sector pay, and how the Opposition had actually been in favour of restoring it, even to judges. All these mere details were powerless against the Opposition's litany of real stories of trainee nurses and unappreciated heroes - the myth of the hero being the most powerful one of our time.

Of course, these days when we're not talking about modern-day heroes, we are obsessing about 'heroes' of times past. Again, all the boring historical facts in the world aren't going to compete with one choice tweet that gets the blood up.

Once more then, with feeling.

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