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It’s said Brexit is ‘not going to plan’. Did we ever have a plan?

William Keegan
Merkel, May and Macron meet for breakfast at last week’s EU summit in Sofia. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Your correspondent is not as well up on social media as his wife and children, but I could not help noticing a slogan posted beneath a London traffic light the other day. It claimed to be from the Instagram project Notes to Strangers – new to me, I must confess – and confidently proclaimed: “Having a Plan B will make your Plan A unsuccessful”.

This was on yet another day when the press was full of reports about the chaos within Theresa May’s hapless government about the Brexit “negotiations” – negotiations that seem to be taking place mainly within her warring cabinet rather than with the rest of the EU. And – surprise, surprise – neither of the proposals supposedly being discussed is in any case considered remotely viable by most, indeed all, of the experts I have talked to.

But back to the traffic-light slogan. It is of course an absurd statement, if mildly amusing. And, goodness knows, don’t we need some light relief as an irresponsible government proceeds with its apparent mission to tear itself and the country apart? The situation is so potentially dire that I often meet intelligent people who just cannot face hearing about Brexit – a development which may have something to do with an apparent decline in the audience for the Today programme, which commentators like myself have to listen to, however annoying it is that the presenters confuse the referendum result, which happened, with Brexit, which has not and one hopes never will. Also, our much-loved BBC gives far too much scope to the likes of Mr Farage.

It is abundantly clear that this dreadful government does not have a Plan B, or even a Plan A that might be rendered unsuccessful by a Plan B. Last week there was even talk of a Plan C, which had already been dismissed by the Irish government.

Now, mention of Farage reminds me of one of the more intriguing recent statements from another member of the Dishonourable Company of Brexiters. Daniel Hannan, who, like Farage, draws a comfortable salary from the EU he wishes us to leave, is a veteran Leaver but managed to merit the newspaper headline “Brexiteer Hannan says leaving the EU not quite going to plan”.

As for the Irish border problem, I have yet to meet any serious person who thinks it is soluble

It wasn’t entirely clear whether my acquaintance Mr Hannan had Plan A or Plan B in mind. But, he tells us: “I had assumed that, by now, we’d have reached a broad national consensus around a moderate form of withdrawal that recognises the narrowness of the result.”

At least, unlike the prime minister and the cabinet Brexiters, he recognises that the referendum result was not an “overwhelming” vote to abandon a 45-year achievement in integrating our economy with the rest of Europe. Along with the majority of the Lords, and the more enlightened Tory and Labour MPs, Mr Hannan sees the advantages of access to the single market and the fallback position of Efta, the European Free Trade Association.

But why bother? The Brexiters, and those who have caved in to them, keep trying to cherry-pick advantages, such as involvement in the Galileo navigation system, which are threatened by Brexit. But, as the EU’s patient chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, says: “We are not kicking the UK out … The UK decided unilaterally and autonomously to withdraw from the EU. This implies leaving its programmes as well.”

The farce deepens. Recently the Department for International Trade had to appeal for funds from the Treasury. Why? Because it was cutting back on services that help our exports to tried and trusted markets in order to waste resources on trying to realise the trade secretary’s fantasy of new agreements elsewhere.

The dream of a wonderful trade deal with Trump’s America has been exposed in a study, entitled On The Rebound by Ed Balls and others for the Harvard Kennedy School. It concludes: “All things considered, both US and UK officials are doubtful that a meaningful deal can be reached.”

As for the Irish border problem, I have yet to meet any serious person who thinks it is soluble. The incompatibility of May’s “red lines” on the customs union and the single market while somehow preserving the status quo in Ireland was a theme of a high-powered discussion at the Irish embassy last week.

As Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said to the audience: “Staying in the single market and customs union would protect jobs, rights and peace. If anyone’s got a better plan, then let’s hear it.”

No one has. We definitely need a Plan B, and it is the status quo. I am beginning to think that, however much – rightly or wrongly – they are fearful of a Corbyn government, the Tories are heading for the cliff. I just hope they don’t take the rest of us with them. Brexit is pointless.