Anyone who occasionally wallows in the great life-soak of social media will be familiar with the formula behind bog-standard clickbait: “Only a genius can solve ... what comes next?” and there follows a mathematical progression, usually of the complexity that teachers of the forthright, pre-digital kind used to sift the possibilities from the problems in higher infants.
After all, if the challenge is toodaunting the clicks stop and site traffic fades to commercial irrelevance. Nothing dispiritingly difficult is presented,seduction and ensnarement are the objectives.
The unearthing of an as yet unidentified genius is not an objective. However, not even the most practiced clickbait Archimedes could finish this progression: June 23, March 29, October 31 and January 31, 2020.
Those dates, each a Brexit blood-red line in the sand, marks a point in a progression that resonates as loudly in a particular kind of consciousness as another progression, though an historical one rather than a mathematical one: Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterlooor Omdurman — and, eventually, the unknown unknown conclusion of the Brexit process.
It is as reassuring as it unsurprising that the EU yesterday accepted Boris Johnson’s request for a Brexit “flextension” until January 31.
There were no reports that British police had cordoned off a ditch in Gloucestershire or an apartment in London where the body of a rotund blond might have been expected after Johnson’s die-in-a-ditch oath to deliver Brexit by Thursday next, October 31. As ever, the melodrama of Johnson’s oration is surpassed only by its hollowness.
Though this is an entirely serious business — apart from climate change the most serious facing British or Irish governments — it long ago became so farcical as to require the safety valve of an attempt at humour.
It veers from the inane, the dangerously ignorant to the shamelessly dishonest so often that anyone with even a passing interest in politics must look forward to the day when the protagonists, freed of the constraints of diplomacy, publish what should be unprecedented autobiographies. Johnson’s, however, may not be reliable unless he breaks the habits of a lifetime.
How those writers might describe yesterday is anyone’s guess. Johnson felt unable to die in his ditch (European or English) because he was juggling stay-in-the-game options presented by a Liberal Democrats proposal to change British election law so December polling might go ahead if Labour refused to back his motion for an early poll.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar might have mixed reactions to yesterday’s concession of a flextension.
As a European leader he may welcome more jaw-jaw but as the leader of an Irish political party he may regret, privately of course, that the January 31 date may deny him the immediate opportunity to test weekend opinion poll results which gave Fine Gael an eight-point lead over Fianna Fáil.
How Michel Barnier and his fellow EU negotiators must wish they had an option available to an old-school múinteoir when faced with a confused student: “Go away and come back to me when you know what you a want.” Don’t we all.