People's Vote 29 November 2018 | 16:50

Brexit Deal-Watch 9: The world’s most pointless debate

29 November 2018 16:50

So the entire country stands on the edge of an economic precipice, as the Bank of England warns that a no-deal Brexit could plunge Britain into the worst recession since the 1930s. On December 11, Theresa May faces a series of votes on her deal with Brussels that could, quite conceivably, force the fall of the Government.

Separate, though related, to that is the continued threat of a no confidence vote in her party leadership by Conservative MPs. Did I miss anything? Oh, yes. The polls indicate that the public would rather stay in the EU than leave on the basis negotiated by the Prime Minister. As political crises go, it’s a doozy.

And what is the political village arguing about? A television debate, that’s what. Jeremy Corbyn has accepted May’s challenge to a live to-and-fro over Brexit, on the agreed date of December 9 (two days before the verdict of the Commons on the deal). But that is all that has been settled.

Labour, pitching for the reality TV demographic, wants the debate to be on ITV at 7pm before the final of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. Downing Street has instead proposed the 8pm slot and the BBC as the preferred broadcaster. It is a contest as daft as any Bushtucker Trial presided over by Holly and Dec.

Much worse, the whole idea of the debate is utterly pointless. May will defend her deal with robotic vapidity, promising that it will be excellent, in the national interest and in no way riddled with inconsistencies and interim solutions to insoluble problems.

No less predictably, Corbyn will say that he would renegotiate Brexit with the magical powers of a socialist Santa and that his deal would protect jobs, enhance prosperity and make everyone a lot happier – and all before the official departure date of March 29. He will controversially tell the PM that he would be much better at her job and urge her to trigger the procedures necessary for a snap general election (yes, another one).

What neither will admit is the extent to which they agree. Temperamentally, Corbyn is a Eurosceptic who has long regarded the EU as a capitalist conspiracy. Though he may claim that his version of Brexit would preserve closer association with the Single Market and perhaps full membership of the Customs Union, he will be vague about the detail. This is because he no more has answers to the questions that have dogged May for two and a half years – how to maintain as many of the benefits of EU membership while formally leaving it? – than she does. He will mutter that he has not ruled out a second referendum, though everyone knows that he hates the idea. The whole damn travesty will be an argument between two varieties of beige.

There are only three positions on Brexit worth discussing now: no deal; May’s deal; and a People’s Vote. Any television debate that does not pit representatives of all three against one another is not worthy of the name, and it is amazing to me that the broadcasters are going along with the nonsense that the real split in this controversy is between the parties. It is not.

We are now only 120 days away from Brexit. It really is time to stop the magical thinking, lies and collective delusion. If there is to be a debate worth having and worth watching, let it be a real one. We get to see May and Corbyn exchanging low-rent insults once a week at PMQs. We really don’t need a Sunday night special edition, too – least of all so close to Christmas. Personally, I’ll be watching I’m a Celebrity…. At least that will be a real contest.