Michael Deacon: 'When the EU holds all the aces, the two of spades and a joker are not much use'
Britain will hold all the cards. Michael Gove said that, during the referendum campaign. Britain will hold all the cards.
Unfortunately, it seems, they were the two of spades, a joker, and a supermarket loyalty card. And Theresa May has been holding them the wrong way round.
Yesterday's big Brexit summit in Brussels was supposed to be a doddle.
After all, Mrs May had already submitted her request to delay Brexit the day before. In theory, she would turn up, field any questions from the EU leaders, and then, at 6pm, they would all hold triumphant press conferences, to announce their agreement.
But this, of course, is Mrs May's Brexit, where absolutely nothing ever goes to plan, or happens on time. Six o'clock came and went. Then seven o'clock. Then eight. Then nine.
What was going on? What could everyone possibly have found to argue about? The size of font for the press release? What vintage of Bordeaux to have with dinner? No. The problem, it seemed, was the new leaving date. Mrs May had requested June 30. The EU had offered May 22. Mrs May had then, apparently, spent 90 minutes begging them for more time.
In response, the EU had offered her even less. According to one rumour, they'd cut the deadline to May 7. According to another, they'd cut it to April 11. Incredible, isn't it? Has there ever, in the history of politics, been a negotiator quite like Mrs May?
To be fair to the EU, I suppose you can understand their position. If you were subjected to Mrs May droning at you for an hour and a half, you probably wouldn't be in a generous mood either. Maybe we should just be grateful that after 20 minutes or so the EU didn't say: "Arrrgh! That's it! We can't take any more! The UK's leaving date is now yesterday! Your right to freedom of movement no longer applies, Mrs May! Get out now!"
Honestly. We often wonder what our grandchildren will make of all this. I'm starting to think they won't even be allowed to study it, for the sake of their mental well-being. Books about Mrs May's handling of Brexit will be sold only to people who can prove they're over 18.
But perhaps it wasn't all Mrs May's fault. Perhaps this was EU reverse psychology. They know that Tory Brexiteers will disagree with anything they say. So they're calculating their reaction will be as follows.
"How dare these Brussels bullies tell us what we can and can't do!" "If we want a longer extension, we'll jolly well have one!" "We demand at least six months!" "A year!" "Two years!"
"In fact, if these Eurocrats aren't careful, we'll stay for good! See how they like that!" (© Daily Telegraph, London)