Dot Wordsworth

Lost for words

Theresa May has helped make the whole process incomprehensible

Emma Bridgewater has, since 1985, produced pottery acceptable in tasteful middle-class kitchens. Some jars had Coffee on and some Biscuits. Coffee meant ‘coffee’ and Biscuits meant ‘biscuits’.

In a similar attempt to achieve popularity, Theresa May told us that Brexit meant ‘Brexit’. It said so on the jar.

But as the Emma Bridgewater range grew, it included a plate bearing the words ‘Bacon & Egg. Bubble & Squeak’. The ampersands were attractive, but it was unlikely that the plate would really accommodate the items suggested.

Now Brexit, once an admirably plain portmanteau of Britain and exit, became a mug’s game. Its meaning is supposed to vary according to what adjective appears on the pottery mug: vanilla, hard, soft, open, blue or, as the Bank of England imagined last week, disorderly, like a drunk at 1 a.m. on Saturday in some market town.

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives’ leader, chirped up during this week’s crisis, saying that, if the Democratic Unionist Party in Belfast had fussily left regulatory alignment on the side of their plate, she wouldn’t mind getting her teeth into it. She called those who rejected this delicious sweetmeat ‘hard Brexiteers’. What could be nastier? They are like hard sums, hard-centred chocolates, sulphurous hard-boiled eggs. Handily, any principled Brexiteer can be called hard. That, though is not the worst language crime associated with negotiating Brexit.

This week’s collapse of talks came after a shuffle of words by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste — the Irish head of government and his deputy. (Their titles were plucked from the Celtic Twilight, the Taoiseach being literally ‘the chief’ and the Tánaiste ‘the successor apparent to a Celtic chief, usually the most vigorous adult of his kin’, as the Oxford English Dictionary avers.) Anyway, last week the Tánaiste insisted there should be no regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland (‘the North of Ireland’ in his lexicon) and the Republic of Ireland.

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