You wouldn’t pay for a meal that a restaurant failed to deliver, so why should Brexit be any different?

If we can change our minds about a meal gone wrong, we should be allowed to have a Final Say on negotiations going about as badly as they can

Alastair Campbell
Monday 24 September 2018 21:29
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People's Vote: 'The Brexit Special' starring Richard Wilson

Who says work and pleasure never mix? And who says working with your kids is worse than working with animals? Whoever it was, both are wrong.

It was a joy to be working – in my capacity as an adviser to the People’s Vote campaign – with the wonderful actor Richard Wilson on a comedy sketch to promote the cause. And all the more joyful that the sketch was written and directed by my daughter Grace, who also plays a waitress serving “the Brexit special” to Richard’s Victor Meldrew.

We span the generations: Grace, a 24-year-old activist and comedian; I, a 61-year-old writer and strategist; Richard, an 82-year-old actor who two years ago thought his days were numbered when he had a heart attack and suffered head injuries in the fall.

The three of us were brought together by Brexit and our fears for where it is heading and what it is doing to the country. Both Grace and Richard are honest enough to admit they don’t understand all the issues – I like to think I do but the complexities are mind-numbing at times. But all three of us feel the whole thing is going wrong and the country needs to be given a chance to vote on the outcome of the current negotiations.

“Undemocratic”, goes up the cry. Not least from the prime minister. The people have spoken. Leave means Leave. Brexit means Brexit.

But does anyone, from May downwards, actually know what that means? What Brexit is actually going to entail, and whether it can be delivered?

The basis of the sketch is that Richard orders the Brexit special on the word of the waitress who can’t explain what is in it, but asks him to trust her that it will be great. Needless to say, it never comes. The head chef quits to be replaced by a ditherer. The chefs fall out over what to put in the dish. As the clock ticks on Victor’s temper kicks in. Eventually the waitress bursts out in tears and admits they don’t have a clue how to make the dish. But he still has to pay for it. And when he asks for a replacement dish they have wasted so much time the kitchen is now closed.

Cue his famous catchphrase “I don’t believe it”.

As metaphors go, it is spot on. It is all too believable. The Leave campaign was won by lies and the negotiations have been run on fantasies.

We were filming on the day after the Salzburg summit where EU leaders confronted May with some hard truths. Her plan was not going to work.

I nipped out to watch her statement in Downing Street. She was standing by it – a plan around which she cannot even unite her cabinet let alone her party, let alone the country which is more divided than I have ever known it.

She said hers was the only plan on the table. But, like the meal ordered by Meldrew, she didn’t have a clue how to deliver it.

Theresa May: 'I have treated the EU with nothing but respect'

If you order a meal which never comes, you can ask for something else. If the meal is not what you ordered, you send it back. If you know it is going to make you ill, you don’t eat it.

At one point Richard Wilson puts on his most exasperated Meldrew face and complains to Grace he was enticed to her restaurant by a new dish on the menu but it is clear they don’t know how to make it and it doesn’t exist. That is Brexit.

The biggest set of decisions since the war is a bit more serious than one meal in a Gospel Oak restaurant. If we can change our minds about a meal gone wrong, we should be allowed to change our minds on negotiations going about as badly as they can, despite the promises that all would go so easily and so well.

The Michelin star dish that was promised has become a dog’s dinner. We don’t need to eat it. We should be able to choose something else.

Get grumpy. Join Victor in fighting for the People’s Vote.

Alastair Campbell is a writer, communicator and strategist best known for his work as director of communications and strategy for former prime minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003

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