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Polite Refusals

Stephen White

The EU continue to claim that the withdrawal deal on the table – Mrs May’s deal – is non-negotiable, capable only of clarification but not of change. Is their refusal to budge from this position a ‘polite refusal’, which might change under pressure, or is it a final position? Look at some analogies.

My favourite episode of The Vicar of Dibley was shown again over the holiday period. Geraldine, the eponymous vicar beloved by her congregants, is invited by several of them to their respective homes for Christmas Day lunch. She politely refuses each invitation, but the hosts press her to accept, and she caves in, resulting in a multiple-lunch fiasco, each one with all the trimmings. In fact hers is not a polite refusal, because she genuinely doesn’t want to eat several turkey meals in the course of one afternoon. She confuses her real objective (not to over-eat) with her social objective (not to offend). When will she learn?

Contrast that with my behaviour recently at a drinks party. I was standing chatting to a friend when a waiter approached with a tray of canapes. Or rather, a tray with one single canape left on it – a slider – my favourite. ‘No thanks’ I said to the waiter, ‘my friend will take it’. But he also refused, insisting it had my name on it. We bickered. Neither of us would back down. The waiter wandered off to find a more compliant customer. A polite refusal gone wrong because I was too focused on being polite and not keen enough on getting the slider. When will I learn?

Will the EU follow Geraldine’s line and surrender? They undoubtedly have problems of precedent creation which they wish to avoid. Some of the member countries are in muted rebellion with Brussels already and making further concessions to the UK will only embolden them. But there are also precedents long since created which suggest that the EU refusal to budge is a brinkmanship ploy on which they will relent at the eleventh hour. It seems to me that Mrs May’s strategy of not only delaying the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement but also subsequently pushing back the ensuing timelines is a deliberate plan to move the EU to that eleventh hour, and then see who blinks first.

Or is the EU following my example of the polite refusal ending up as a failure to achieve the priority objective. Which in their case has nothing to do with the UK, but rather the wellbeing of European manufacturing and therefore ultimately the GDP of the member states.

Time will tell.

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