Ramsay Jones: When securing a deal looked like a distant dream, the PM pulled it off and she didn’t even have to sing​

Ramsay Jones

It was, I suppose, fitting that the first stage of our exit from the European Union should be settled at dawn in the capital of Belgium. It gave headline writers plenty of alliterative scope: Breakfast Brexit in Brussels.

The signing ceremony, marking the start of the next step in the full British Brexit, was complemented by the signatories enjoying an ironic continental breakfast together.

In the end, Friday was a good day for the prime minister. Such a good day that the draft divorce deal had been signed and sealed when most of us were fast asleep.

On Thursday evening, the PM was in her flat above Downing Street. Directly below her, dozens of Westminster political journalists and their children were enjoying a Christmas party, for the most part unaware of the drama unfolding around them.

Whilst we were in the land of nod, the PM had grabbed a brief nap, spent the wee small hours on the phone and eventually received the only nod she needed: one of approval. The green light. The Ulster Unionists were told time was up. Their final bluff was called. The key Cabinet allies were in agreement. The Irish Government was on side. The EU was ready. Time to sign.

As the alarm clocks rang and our radios clicked on, we were greeted with the news that a pre-dawn flight from RAF Northolt had taken Theresa May to meet her EU counterparts. The running order on the Today programme was ripped up. Yesterday in Parliament became Right Now in Brussels. It was being billed as a historic day. It was the culmination of a rollercoaster week during which failure had often seemed more likely than success. Victory had been grabbed from the jaws of defeat. When most thought failure was coming, the PM pulled it off. Expectations had been low. The spin machine had been out of control. Government messaging had been all over the place. Rumours were allowed to run riot. Such was the seeming disarray in UK Government ranks that the official opposition, Labour, had the luxury of adopting as many different positions on the same issue on the same day and got away with it.

The week had begun in turmoil as the DUP were allowed to scupper what everyone assumed was a slam dunk deal. Confusion reigned over whether there was a special deal for Northern Ireland, or whether any moves to cover the country’s special circumstances would apply to the whole UK. How can there be, the cynics asked, an outcome which satisfies the Good Friday Agreement and keeps the Union intact?

But, as the week progressed, the PM stuck to her task. The job of pleasing everyone was always going to be a big ask. There were too many circles to be squared. Too many conflicting and contradictory priorities.

Yet what if everyone could be mostly satisfied? Only mildly miffed? What if the art of constructive ambiguity could produce a deal which everyone could claim was what they’d wanted all along?

In truth, there is still a heck of a long way to go. But part of the art of politics is beating expectations and that was done in spades. True, the low expectations which were surpassed were the fault of the government itself.

But the consequence was a deal which silenced almost all the critics. At least for now. Let me repeat: the PM pulled it off.

One exception was Nigel Farage. Remember him? He took to the airwaves to decry the divorce deal. The price was too high. We have given too much away. Humiliating. On and on he went to anyone who would listen. It was, he and a few others thought, fudge. Which, given that the prime minister is a diabetic, would be somewhat ironic.

But his hysteria to this historic deal got me thinking: if Nigel hates it, it must be good. It’s a decent yardstick to remember in the turbulent months to come.

Safe and soundbites

Some of the reactions to the Brexit deal amused me. Politicians like to coin original soundbites to leave their mark on the lexicon of their trade. Some of them spend hours in front of the mirror practising their spontaneous soundbites.

But, on Friday, many resorted to those of yesteryear. And those of others.

Our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon used the old chestnut “The devil will be in the detail”.

Jean-Claude Juncker, El Presidente of the EU waxed lyrical, literally, as he declared “Breaking up is hard to do.”

And the new Taoiseach went all Churchillian as he opined “This is not the end…”

They all missed the best one to have a bit of banter at the PM’s expense. She herself joked at the Christmas party the night before that she might sing “Come on Arlene”.

Alternatively, she may have been pondering “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, Here I am, Stuck in the middle with EU.”

Present tense

Yesterday was my birthday. In two weeks’ time, it will be Christmas and I admit it, I love getting presents.

But I also get great joy from giving them too. The process of deciding what’s just right. Tracking it down. Putting it under the tree and, hopefully, seeing a smile of satisfaction when it is opened.

The pleasure of giving is important for children too. Life is about give and take.

So I don’t agree with the stance taken by Falkirk Council. They have banned children from giving presents to their teachers.

When my kids were at primary school, they made chocolate truffles for theirs. The cost was minimal. A few nuts, cocoa powder and so on.

They tasted great and, regardless of whether the teachers liked them, the whole process mattered. It was a small way of saying a big thank you.

Stopping kids from doing this is wrong, even if Falkirk’s motives are good. A hand-made card, or treats, or a small present from the child’s own pocket money should be encouraged, not banned.

So to the parents and children of Falkirk, go on. Make and give a present.

Your teachers are unsung heroes who give tirelessly day in and day out. Let’s show we value them and care.

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