Monday 10 December 2018

Television review: Three seconds of Brexit truth

  • Newsnight (BBC2)

Pause for thought: President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schauble
Pause for thought: President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schauble
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There will be no Brexit. When I wrote these words a few weeks after the UK referendum of 2016, I was naturally a small bit worried that nobody else in the entire world's media was making that prediction - indeed, nobody was raising the question or even alluding to the possibility that there might be no Brexit.

I know this, because with that slight tinge of anxiety that always comes with such a monumental call, I would listen very carefully to interviews with the great minds of the European commentariat, hoping that they might make me feel less alone, that at least one of them might mention this possibility - or even take a view on my more nuanced position, the No Brexit Brexit: the idea that there might indeed be this thing that they would call Brexit, but it would be so similar to whatever was there already, that effectively there would be no Brexit.

They would not go there.

Now, nearly two years later, they are starting to realise that there may be nowhere else to go. On Newsnight, Mark Urban interviewed Wolfgang Schauble, the president of the Bundestag, and asked him this question: "Do you think that Brexit will happen?"

And there was a silence.

It lasted for about three seconds, this silence - which may not seem like a lot, but when it's coming from the president of the Bundestag, sitting across the table from you, fixing you with his most penetrating gaze, it can feel like an eternity.

Oh what thoughts ran through Schauble's head in those moments? How strong was his desire to speak the truth?

Or perhaps he was just thinking, "that's strange… the only one who used to be doubtful that Brexit would happen was that fellow in the Sunday Independent."

Anyway, eventually he gave his opinion about whether Brexit would happen, without really giving it at all: "If you ask my personal dream, I hope not. But it's a reality, we have to accept the decision of the British people…"

He had settled on this line whereby he, Wolfgang Schauble, was "in some way dreaming that Brexit will not happen….but I know it's not a reality….but if you ask me for some years in the future…"

A lot of "buts" there, from the normally unyielding German, a lot of "dreaming" - though in this case it sounded like the "dream" of the negotiator trying to deal with the "reality" of talking some desperate individual down from the window on the 14th floor.

So now that the No Brexit, or indeed the No Brexit Brexit, is the stuff of banter between the BBC and the Bundestag, my only purpose in raising the matter is not to remind readers of that original prediction of mine - no need for that - but to wonder why, at the time, not one other expert on European affairs would even entertain the notion of it.

It is here that we find one of those unfortunate "realities", and I would suggest that it arises not from incompetence but from this nagging fear on the part of the insider, that some day he might find himself on the outside.

It is true of most political commentators, not least those who specialise in "international relations" that they are on the inside, and they love it there - it was this tendency which revealed itself so disgracefully at the White House Correspondents' dinner, when they couldn't take a joke directed at Trump's press secretary. Really when pushed, they are all in it together.

And they dread being out of line, being regarded as somehow less than entirely serious - this has to be a partial explanation at least, of their failure in this regard, because the thing about predicting the No Brexit Brexit, is that it wasn't really an outlandish suggestion - it seemed obvious to me indeed, that Brexit is one of the worst ideas of all time, thought up by some of the worst people in the world, and that it can't possibly work.

Yet it is only now, that these supposedly serious people are catching up - only now, when it's safe.

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