So this is how it ends: dinner for two in der Leyen’s den: Boris enters the belly of the Brussels beast one last time in a desperate attempt to snatch compromise from the jaws of confusion.
“Come in Mr Johnson, I’ve been expecting you,” purrs the European Commission president, wearing a monocle and stroking a black cat.
Prime Minister Johnson’s reply is a sly grin, the only grin left in his dwindling armoury of charm. He adjusts his Churchillian stoop, ruffles his trademark shock of already distraught blonde hair, and delivers his carefully prepared introductory ice-breaker:
“Good to see you in the flesh, Ursula old thing. Listen, I’ve often wondered – what’s the German for ‘Golly gosh, it’s all a bit of a bugger’s muddle’?”*
At the time of writing, there is still no news of her response. But we do know that, after a masked balls-up of a joint photo-opportunity on arrival at Ursula’s massive private residence (which also doubles as her office), the pair used the pandemic as the perfect excuse to stay well away from each other over a very fishy dinner.
Before the first sip of the pumpkin soup starter had been slurped, the prime minister also made clear that he would be socially distancing himself from any Brexit details as well, lest he be stricken by the dreaded virus T-B (Tory-Brussels) which has felled a wide range of Conservative Party leaders in the last forty years.
“But what about our talks on fair competition, governance and fishing?” demanded Ursula.
Boris rolled his eyes: “Oh it’s all bunkum, Ursula! Actum est onus Domini piffle!”
Ursula shook her head: “Yes but piffle can be vitally important, especially in the EU…”
The PM grinned: “You know the word piffle?”
Ursula nodded: “Yes. It is the same in German, ein Haufen Piffle.”
In the absence of hard post-match evidence of the meeting’s content (COVID meant there were no spectators despite a clamour for tickets), your correspondent has had to rely on a junior official vaguely familiar with how the top-level Brexit date-night unfolded.
The PM apparently spent time moaning about how his Brexit front-line team had run out of ideas for getting his “oven-ready deal” out of the cooker without getting the nation’s fingers burnt. And how it was now his destiny, whatever the cost and whatever the sacrifice, to “Make Britain Great Again”.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves: things went pear-shaped from the minute the two sat down together, according to my fairly unreliable source...
First, Ursula raised her glass to toast a bright, sustainable, diverse EU-27 future based on a robust, deliverable strategy founded on equality, mutual respect and common purpose for all stakeholders once the Brits have disappeared.
Boris, nonplussed, dribbled soup down his tie and then, regaining his composure, did a brilliant Trump impersonation to declare that “Britain will prosper mightily with or without a Brexit deal. In fact we will prosper mightilier than any country has ever mightily prospered, anywhere in the history of the world!”
Ursula sat back and smiled. “That’s very good Mr Johnson, but it is this superior attitude which has got your country where it is today. Maybe the American way is better for you Brits. How is your Biden impersonation?”
Boris shook his head: “Not too good so far. I can’t seem to talk as slowly as him. Trump’s much easier to copy.”
Ursula nodded: “Of course he is - as are you. Michel does a very fine impersonation of you….
Boris looked up: “Me? Really? Good old Barnier! Top man!”
Ursula: “Yes. Michel will miss you when this is finally over…..what is it you English say….like a hole in the brain?
Boris: ”Hole in the head: he’ll miss me like a hole in the head.”
There was silence at the table until the soup plates were cleared. Over the main course, Boris complained about his Brexit team, who were “so hopeless that they had actually dragged me, the bally Prime Minister of all things, into this whole Brexit end-game fiasco!”
Ursula politely acknowledged that one of the perks of any top job was supposed to be that you simply got good people around you to do all the donkey work. But it never worked like that.
Boris perked up: “Exactly! Exactly! You see Urs – can I call you Urs? – we agree: we’re more ‘blue-skies, tour-d’horizon’ sort of chaps.”
Ursula shook her head as she prodded an English scallop of Italian and Greek parentage which, until very recently, had been minding its own business swimming in a borderless sea off Ostend until fate steered it towards a German-owned French trawler with a Romanian crew.
“I am German”, she said softly. “I do details. Macron and Merkel, we all do the details, the piffle, as you call it. The problem with you British politicians is that, when it comes to the European project, you are all ears and no knickers."
Boris corrected her: “We are all mouth and no trousers….”
Ursula nodded: “Thank you. I am learning a lot tonight. You are all about grandstanding and making slogans……."
Boris leaned earnestly cross the table, until his nose squashed against the perspex anti-COVID divide: “But that’s my thing, Urs. Details are terribly boring. I do the broad-brush stuff and help out with the messaging. Always have! Always will! That’s what’s got me where I am today!”
He tried to lean further forward, but his DG Health and Safety-approved dining-seat belt kept him tethered the requisite two metres away from the president. “Here’s a slogan you can have Ursula, cos it soon won’t be any use to us ……..A Treaty a day helps you work rest and play!”
The rest of the conversation was described by my source as downhill all the way after the prime minister described to Ursula a recurring dream he’d been having since the end of 2016, in which the newly-elected President Donald Trump, a fine and wise chap who had endorsed Brexit and was Boris’ best chum, flew to Brussels and stood in front of Commission headquarters cheered by a massive crowd, in fact the biggest crowd in all of crowd history, to declare: “Mr Junker, tear down this Berlaymont!”
There was nothing more to say. The pavlova was devoured in stony silence, as was the cognac, as were the Apres Huit mints.
At the time of writing, the whole negotiating soap opera might be called off by the end of Sunday December 13, because, some say, no deal is better than a bad deal (a statement that can mean two very different things).
Or we might be Brexit-ing on until the last minute of the last hour of the year. Or maybe longer, because even when it ends, we all know it won’t really be over.
As far as the European Union is concerned, Boris Johnson will always be the chap who made Britain grate again – and again.
(*Meine Güte, es ist alles ein bisschen durcheinander!)