Cake and eating it is off the Brexit menu…

CAKE – who doesn’t like cake? The Foreign Secretary is a fan. This you will discover if you Google “Boris Johnson eating cake”. I just did that and uncovered much evidence of Boris and cake interaction.

When he stopped trying to calculate which way the wind was blowing over the Brexit vote and finally came out for Leave, Johnson said: “I am pro having my cake and eating it.”

The man is a walking, talking Battenburg – only that cake sounds suspiciously foreign, so perhaps we should settle for a dry Victoria sponge or a stale piece of fruitcake. The fruitcake should of course be served with cheese, although in Boris’s case the cheese will be a slice of Empire cheddar with a hard rind.

Having your cake and eating it has been the favourite scenario of the Brexiteers for a year now. This is the idea that, as Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable puts it with winning elegance, we can “enjoy each of two equally desirable things”. Brewer continues: “Mostly one cannot do this, so that it is more common to hear: ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it’.”

The Leavers have been full of cake and eating it, even as Johnson brushes the crumbs off his stomach and wipes the sugar from his mouth. We have been kidded all the way along that there would be cake for us to eat, plentiful cake, cake of unbounded opportunity. And now all that seems to have been put on hold.

According to an exclusive in today’s Guardian, British officials have quietly abandoned hope of securing the government’s promised “cake and eat it” Brexit deal. Instead, they now accept the negotiations will be a long, painful slog as deals are traded off between market access and political control.

This was always going to be the case, as any cake-eating fool could have told them. Leaving Europe is fantastically complicated – not only because of the many economic and political ties that bind us but because we agreed to those deals in the first place. And, also, because the rest of Europe might have an opinion on how our sulky withdrawal should be organised.

I think we should be really pissed off about this. The “cake and eat it” brigade won people over with their promises of plenty, their rosy scenarios, their talk of Britain being great again. Plenty of voters swallowed all that illusionary cake, believing every crumbed word. And now they are finding that their doughnuts have been dunked in salt instead of sugar.

Perhaps there is mileage still in cake as a metaphor. Never mind the ‘just about managing’ people Mrs Maybe says she wants to help. You can’t help but worry that with the Conservatives, it’s more a case of “you can’t have your cake, but you can watch Boris Bunter eat his”.

The suggestion that the eating of cake is only for the few is hard to shake sometimes, especially when the poorly paid can’t afford much in the way of sweet sustenance.

This morning it is being reported that Boris Johnson is leading calls for the government to scrap the public sector pay cap. Is there any passing bandwagon that man will not leap on?

But if Tories are beginning to attack austerity, and to say that the 1% pay cap should be lifted – and the Department of Sorting Out All This Brexit Shit says cake will no longer be on the table – then the political landscape truly has changed.

Incidentally, the story in today’s Guardian was written by Dan Roberts, who worked here in York on the Press many years ago. He is the Guardian’s Brexit policy editor. Before that, he was Washington bureau chief , and previously worked for the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph.

A glittering career of which it is possible to feel envious, but well done to Dan.

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