A stay of execution is always welcome

A stay of execution is always welcome

Dr Samuel Johnson, he who was not overly impressed by the Giant’s Causeway, said that the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully. We who grapple with the looming disaster that is Brexit know exactly what he meant. So the news that we are to have a two-year stay of execution – a transitional period – can only lift the heart. But not too much – we are still on death row.

The good news is that the British side has agreed to a transitional period of at least two years during which time they will continue to pay into the EU budget – the figure of £20 billion was mentioned. The bad news is that May repeated what may be the stupidest political mantra of all time – that no deal is better than a bad deal. This is so patently, obviously, stunningly untrue  that it can only send one back again to study the text of her Florence speech to try to find the positive elements some commentators seemed to see in it.

There was always going to be a transition – it is physically and practically impossible to switch off EU membership at midnight in March 2019. This is not a new move or concession, merely a recognition of what Basil Fawlty called the bleeding obvious.  Paying into the budget during the transition is also pretty obvious, but already some commentators seem to think the £20 billion could be subtracted from the final exit bill, and the more delirious seem to think it replaces the big bill.

None of the big questions has been answered. The talks start again in Brussels today and that is the only place we will get answers.