This year I have been very good. I’ve stopped taking shortcuts through wheat fields. I have offered my friends (and even one or two enemies) a place to stay in Downing Street in the very near future, and kept in touch with my pen pals abroad.
So, if it’s not too much trouble, and only because it’s Christmas, this December may I please have… a miracle?
Frightfully sorry for asking, but at this stage I really need one.
Thanks, your friend, Theresa.
It is safe to say that, after this week’s EU summit, British prime minister Theresa May is quickly running out of options. And even jolly old St Nick is unlikely to be able to sort this one out any time soon.
After surviving the first wave of official attack by winning the Tory Party’s confidence motion in her on Wednesday by 200 votes to 117, the beleaguered British leader marched off to Brussels on Thursday with a fresh sense of ambition.
A whistle-stop tour of Europe at the start of the week had given her every indication that her pleas for some form of concessions to placate the baying Westminster mob before a likely January Brexit deal vote would be met with sympathetic ears.
While she appeared to accept the backstop was not going to be changed, Ms May used Thursday’s talks to seek non-binding political reassurances that the Northern Irish issue would not be used to “trap” Britain in the EU. She asked for a future relationship start date which would, in effect, become a one-year backstop end date in all but name, and requested new legal add-ons to the deal to help win over vital Westminster support.
Despite acknowledging to reporters on Thursday morning that she was not expecting an “immediate breakthrough”, Ms May and her officials had expected some form of EU support to see her through the cold winter days.
However, she was instead given an icy response, with the hoped-for presents under the diplomatic Christmas tree replaced with lumps of pitch-black Brussels coal.
In a hard-hitting press conference late on Thursday night, European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker made it as clear as he could that there will be no changes whatsoever to the Brexit deal or the backstop agreement.
He insisted that no legal add-ons will be given to the UK and that the EU’s no deal preparation plans will be published in full next Wednesday.
And, in a move that sources said surprised even European Council president Donald Tusk in its tone, Mr Juncker emphasised that even a watery “political declaration” is off the table.
Our British friends have to tell us what they want,” said Mr Juncker.
“We often find ourselves in a nebulous, vague debate and it is time we got clarity.”
The hard-hitting rejection was repeated by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, German chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders, who agreed they will not budge.
And while Mr Varadkar told reporters yesterday that he is still open to offering some form of “clarity” to Britain on what has already been agreed, he backed the decision by the EU to delete a previous reference in documents to be open to providing further reassurances to London.
Ms May had travelled to Brussels in the hope that Mr Juncker would happily don the red suit — if not the “red, white, and blue” Brexit suit — and play the Santa role.
However, he instead chose to enter the stage as the suit-wearing Grinch, echoing the same political death from “men in grey suits” which Ms May’s predecessor Margaret Thatcher suffered almost 30 years ago.
The seemingly insurmountable stand-off led to a very public ‘hand-bags at dawn’ moment on Friday, as Ms May approached Mr Juncker in the full view of cameras to criticise him for his comments the previous night — sending media outlets scattering for a lip reader.
In a later press conference, she confirmed that a “robust” discussion took place and that she still believes an offer could be forthcoming, before joking when asked if it has been a difficult week: “Why, has something happened this week?”
The comment is not the first time this week Irish officials will have tried to publicly stifle a few laughs at the unfolding calamity across the water.
There was a joke doing the rounds on social media that if Britain had negotiators this bad 100 years ago then Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera would have probably ended up with Northern Ireland and most of Wales.
But the failure of Ms May to be rescued by an 11th hour Christmas miracle in the past 48 hours means Ireland is now at just as much risk of waking up to a lump of coal instead of a neatly-wrapped soft border and economic stability on December 25.
While this country is right to feel proud at the resolute backing of this country by EU colleagues throughout the entire process, the knock-on effect is that a no-deal Brexit is now hurtling towards us like an out-of-control reindeer-powered sleigh.
And although Britain will be worst affected, Ireland will not escape undamaged, with an ESRI report this week warning that the worst-case scenario could leave a €3.6bn hole in next year’s budget and place a serious question mark over what will happen on the Irish border — issues that could cause just as much Christmas carnage for Mr Varadkar as Ms May.
Ms May’s race around Europe this week and her limp pitch to the EU summit was based on the fact that Brexiteers still believe in their political santa of a Brexit that gives them everything they want despite all evidence suggesting it just doesn’t exist.
But while they are still hoping for a Miracle on 34th Street moment, the unfortunate reality is they could soon be sat down by their political parents and be told what they are really getting is an Unmitigated Disaster at Brussels.
Ms May can write all the ‘letters to Santa’ she wants.
However, at some stage, someone is going to have to tell her and her Westminster colleagues that they are looking for help from a saviour that just does not exist, with their correspondence being sent up the chimney turning into nothing except hot air and a disappointing ball of smoke.
As any parent of children who ask for the impossible knows — it’s time to prepare for tears.