A year since the UK voted to leave the European Union, and three months since triggering Article 50, the UK’s negotiating team has finally arrived in Brussels, where The Independent was kindly permitted to sit in on negotiations.
Lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier: Monsieur Davis, how pleased I am to see you. This has been a difficult year for all chez Barnier. A negotiator with no one to negotiate with, he is not un happy lapin. Madame Barnier, how she has suffered. The dishes have not been washed since September. The bin duty rota is in the hands of the European Court of Justice. But at last, the negotiations can begin.
David Davis: Yes, well, sorry about that. It, err, took us a little while to figure out what Brexit means.
Barnier: You have my sympathies. All I had to do was get 27 different countries to unanimously agree a negotiating position. You had to deal with the Conservative Party. Tres difficile.
Davis: Ha, ha, yes, Tres amusant. And then there was the election, don’t forget, but now, we are ready.
Barnier: The election, yes. Theresa May, she had to, how did she put it, “strengthen her hand” in these negotiations. Now all my English friends, they are telling me jokes about Jeremy Beadle. Who is this person?
Davis: Erm, don’t worry about that. So where shall we start?
Barnier: OK, well, as we all know, Brexit means Brexit. I have looked up Brexit in my Handy English Phrasebook, and it is not there. Can you tell me what Brexit means?
Davis: Easy peasy, Michel. Br is for Britain. Exit is for exit. Brexit means Britain is leaving the European Union, which is exactly what Britain is going to do.
Barnier: And what about Northern Ireland?
Davis: Yes, Britain is leaving the European Union. Brexit means Brexit.
Barnier: But Northern Ireland is not in Britain.
Davis: Yes it is.
Barnier: No it isn’t. Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain is just England, Scotland and Wales.
Davis: Right. Erm, well, we’ll have to get back to you on that one. Bit complicated. But whatever happens, as we have said many times over the last year, we want to build a deep and special partnership with our European allies.
Barnier: A deep and special partnership indeed. This can be achieved. In the EU, as you may remember, we love deep and special partnerships. We are 27 countries, once 28, all in deep and special partnerships with each other. Poland has a deep and special partnership with Spain. Italy has a deep and special partnership with Romania. Belgium has a deep and special partnership with Sweden. Three hundred and fifty-one deep and special partnerships. Some are so deep and special that anyone can live anywhere, work anywhere, sell any product anywhere – Mercedes Benzes, innovative jams, anything at all. Some of these partnerships are so deep and special they have removed the borders between them. But I am thinking this this is not the type of deep and special partnership you seek?
Davis: Yes, we would like a deep and special partnership, just like that, where you can sell innovative jam anywhere.
Barnier: And live and work anywhere?
Davis: Sell jam anywhere.
Barnier: Monsieur Davis. I think what you are looking for is not a deep and special relationship, but a shallow relationship, that is special for you, but not so special for me. We are not so big on shallow relationships. And we are always the special one.
Davis: But, but, but, but, but, but – the German car industry. They want a deep and special partnership. If Germans stop selling cars to the Brits, the whole of western civilisation will crumble. Everybody knows that.
Barnier: I asked the German car industry. They said they don’t care. They said that it is the UK that needs to change its demands, not the EU. It was in Der Spiegel. I think maybe you were too busy listening to that man Steve Hilton phoning in from California to complain about elites. He is very funny man.
Davis: You must understand, no deal is better than a bad deal. The UK is prepared to walk away.
Barnier: Same time tomorrow?
Davis: Yes please.