When Boris Johnson was a journalist working for the Daily Telegraph and covering the European Union from Brussels, he had a particular knack for spinning stories that became part of the lore of ‘euromyths’.
Yes, there is such a term, coined to frame the untruthful and distorted reporting Johnson and other British journalists specialised in — anything to denigrate and undermine the great pan-European project and simultaneously shore up the great myths of imperial Britannica.
Oh those were the days. When the British media would have a feeding frenzy about Eurocrats drafting rules that made no common sense — which of course they weren’t. Never, in the words of Fleet Street, let the facts get in the way of a good story.
As things stand now, with the clock ticking down to a deadline when both Brussels and London must both agree to extend the transition period for the United Kingdom to remain aligned to the EU. Brexit may have been passed on January 31, but until December 31, it follows EU rules on the free movement of goods, services and people
Oh the shock and horror. The great euromyths sold millions of papers. Brussels was banning mince pies. Prawn cocktail crisps would go the way of the dodo because of their artificial flavouring. Bananas couldn’t be sold if they were too straight while British rhubarb had to be very straight.
Mushy peas were to be struck off the list of foods fit for human consumption because only French ‘petit pois’ were acceptable. Double-decker buses were for the scrap heap and barmaids would have to cover up their cleavage.
And even fish and chips — that most English of all staples on an island where food had to be either boiled or fried within an inch of its life and where the only spices that mattered was salt, more salt, salt and vinegar — was threatened because the fish-species names had to be displayed in Latin.
For many Britons, the BBC’s darkly satirical series Yes Minister was a very real portrayal of political life. And it too fed into the great euromyth deception with a lot line where the EU Commission was to require the renaming of the British sausage as an “emulsified high fat offal tube” on account of it not containing enough meat.
All, of course, were simply false. A great British deception — but like the best of deceptions works in creating an impression that what you see is not what you get.
Great British deception
The other great British deception, of course, was the creation of a wholly fictitious military invasion force in the winter of 1943 and through the spring of 1944, massing in the fields of Kent and commanded by General George Patton, where inflatable tanks and thousands of routine orders and commands were broadcast on radio — all so that German spies could report to Berlin that the D-Day invasion force was prepping to launch on the Pas de Calais while the real force was massing in the southwest and would target Normandy.
We all know how that worked out — and in many ways the EU project was built on the ruins of western Europe with a promise that never again would the continent endure the pain and suffering of two world wars and too many millions dead. Too bad that project is collateral damage in the Brexiteers quest for Great Britain to stand alone again against Europe in splendid isolation.
When Johnson was a journalist, he never met a deadline he never met. Yes, he was one of those scribes that leave editors pulling their hair out, never following the rules that make for order, that avoid chaos, that all papers to master disaster.
And as things stand now, with the clock ticking down to a deadline when both Brussels and London must both agree to extend the transition period for the United Kingdom to remain aligned to the EU. Brexit may have been passed on January 31, but until December 31, it follows EU rules on the free movement of goods, services and people.
That transition period can be extended by mutual consent by another 24 months, shorter if needs be. But right now, coronavirus pandemic and all — Britain passed the grim milestone of recording the most deaths in Europe from Covid-19 earlier in the week — the talks between London and Brussels are at a standstill.
Negotiators from both sides are formally talking by video link with few informal channels — dinner and drinks and the like where real deals are often done — to allow for progress. Quite frankly, a ventilator is likely needed to keep the talks alive.
The EU’s tortuous Brexit talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government were renewed in late April, but quickly hit snags, according to Brussels diplomats and officials who put the blame only partly on the coronavirus pandemic.
“The truth is that progress has not been good,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s very capable Foreign and Deputy Prime Minister told RTE radio. “The necessary progress really isn’t there. “Unless there is significant progress in those negotiating rounds then I think we are going to reach yet another crisis point in the Brexit negotiations, which from the Irish point of view is very, very serious,” Coveney said.
A hard Brexit without a new trade deal in place is a distinct possibility. With an impasse looming, there’s jaw-dropping dismay that London and Washington on Tuesday formally launched a first round of negotiations aimed at reaching a free-trade agreement, pledging to work at an accelerated pace to reach a deal to boost trade and investment — and add the likes of chlorinated chicken to fish and chips with mushy peas.
There is no thought in Downing Street now of moving on that June deadline. Or maybe there is no thought in Downing Street at all.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe