Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Britain's cake delusion

Britain – or at least Britain’s leading politicians – have a serious cake problem. They think it’s possible to eat the cake and keep the cake and then eat the cake and keep the cake, and so on forever and ever.

There is even a popular British idiomatic proverb to warn the English (it’s mostly the English) to stop thinking of cake. The proverb is, “You can't have your cake and eat it.”

The proverb literally means "you cannot simultaneously retain your cake and eat it". Once the cake is eaten, it is gone.

Unfortunately, many politicians don’t understand this. They think it's possible to have a cake and eat it. There is currently no known cure for this syndrome, and it’s affected both Tory and Labour leaders.

The stories about the everlasting cake have been circulating since the EU referendum of 23 June 2016. Now many British people think that such a miracle cake really exists.

On the mainland of Europe, however, they can’t believe that Britain has fallen for the story about the cake that can be eaten forever.

(On the other hand, many have a sneaky suspicion that the cake story might explain why the UK has been named the most obese country in western Europe.)

Politicians referring to magical powers are a relatively new phenomenon. It started when Prime Minister, Theresa May, blinked her eyes and started talking about 'shaking a magic money tree’.

International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said there was more chance of him 'seeing the tooth fairy' than the UK staying in the European Union. (It might explain why he keeps looking over his shoulder).

But it's the stories about the everlasting cake that can be scoffed and scoffed that really take the biscuit.

This week Buzzfeed got hold of a secret government report showing that every form of Brexit would lead to reduced growth for Britain. Any Brexit, concluded the government’s own analysis, would damage almost every sector of Britain’s economy.

But Brexit Minister, Steve Baker, was quick to dismiss the report because it had left out the government’s ‘preferred Brexit option’.

And what’s that? The cake option, of course.

The preference in which Britain gets to keep all or most of the benefits of EU membership, but without having to be an EU member.

Yes, the cake-and-keep-it fantasy.

Where Britain can have all that cake (i.e. EU benefits) without having to follow the rules of the EU, including free movement of people; without being subject to the European Court of Justice to oversee those rules, and without having to pay anything into the EU budget.

The EU has made it clear that such a cake has never existed, and that such a cake could never be offered.

After all, if there was such a cake, everyone would want it, wouldn't they?

The EU27 have another phrase for the cake-and-eat-it myth. They say that Britain can’t ‘cherry pick.’

(The Germans say Rosinenpicken - “raisin picking” - but it amounts to the same thing.)

EU benefits à la carte are not on the menu. The EU has been saying that ever since the crazy cake idea was put forward.

But that hasn’t stopped our political masters insisting that the à la carte cake option, with a cherry on top, is the one they prefer, and the one they hope to get.

(After all, Britain is special; we won the war, we saved Europe more than once, and we bloody well deserve to get some cake for that).

It was Boris Johnson who started the clamour for cake.

He was the first to say that on Brexit the UK could “have our cake and eat it.” He also gave the phrase a slight twist by saying, “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.”

The words “have cake and eat it” were also written on a Brexit memo carried out of No. 10 Downing Street by a government aide and photographed by a sharp-eyed press photographer.

Ardent Tory Brexiter, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was asked whether the UK will be able to “have its cake and eat it” when it leaves the European Union.

He replied: “I like cake, I like eating it, I like having it and I like baking bigger cakes, which was Margaret Thatcher’s great saying.”

Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Secretary of State for Works and Pensions said, “I’ve never understood the concept of having a cake and not eating it. It’s always struck me that if you go to all the effort of actually baking a cake you might as well damn well eat it.”

He added, “After all that’s what the Great British Bake Off is all about. Maybe that’s the thing that Britain adds to this debate..”

Yes, Britain is obsessed with cake and thinks it's quite right to bring cake to the Brexit table.

Unfortunately, the Labour opposition also believes in cake.

Labour’s shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, described the aim of Labour’s Brexit policy as “have our cake and eat it”.

Labour’s manifesto promised to retain the “benefits of the single market and the customs union” without being a member of either. That’s a typical cake-and-eat-it approach.

Labour’s manifesto also pledged to end free movement of people – one of the strict prerequisites of enjoying EU membership benefits.

Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, confirmed the Labour party’s official line that “we want a partnership that retains the benefits of the single market and the customs union.”

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that Britain cannot stay in the Single Market.

So, we have a government and an opposition that both believe it’s possible to have a cake and eat it.

In response to this delusion, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council said:

“The cake philosophy was pure illusion: that one can have the EU cake and eat it too. To all who believe in it, I propose a simple experiment. Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate.”

Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said: “They want to have their cake, eat it, and get a smile from the baker.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, managed to explain the silliness of it all without even having to mention cake.

He said, “We take note of the UK decision to end free movement of people. This means, clearly, that the UK will close the benefits of the single market. This is a legal reality.”

There are, however, some sensible people in the UK who know that it’s best to stay away from cake.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said, “We can’t cherry-pick; we can’t have our cake and eat it.” (Leading Tories are now calling for him to be sacked – how dare he say that we can’t have cake!)

And Bank of England boss, Mark Carney, warned, “Before long, we will all begin to find out the extent to which Brexit is a gentle stroll along a smooth path to a land of cake and consumption.”

The idea of having a cake and eating it really is a stupid Brexit fairy tale. Britain has become the laughing stock of the world for suggesting such a concept, let alone believing in it.

Forget cake. In the EU, Britain has so much more than cake.

What’s that?

A share of the entire bakery.
Other articles by Jon Danzig:

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