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EU poll's like watching Manchester United play City - it's a pity both sides can't lose

By Mark Steel

Published 20/02/2016

Prime problem: the public seem confused over the Brexit issue, as David Cameron continues negotiations over the UK’s future
Prime problem: the public seem confused over the Brexit issue, as David Cameron continues negotiations over the UK’s future

Oh, I don't know what to do. On the one hand, if we vote to stay in we'll get David Cameron waving and smiling and looking triumphant and doing anything to make that happen will make your soul go dark yellow and spew up green sticky liquid.

But if we vote to leave, that would please Nigel Farage and pleasing Farage must surely be illegal, if we've made any progress at all since the 13th century.

It's like watching Manchester United play Manchester City; you spend the whole time thinking of a way that both sides can lose.

Half the country seems to be this confused, changing their mind depending on who they last saw talking about it, going "Ugh, Blair wants to stay in, I'm voting out, but ugh, Duncan-Smith wants to come out, I'm voting in."

The best strategy for either side would be to get their most prominent supporters together, then all go and live in Nigeria until it's over and win by a landslide.

Instead, the debate is about which side will manage to be more horrible to immigrants. So the PM makes statements such as: "Due to the success of these talks, Romanians living in Britain will no longer be allowed in a post office until they've been working here for nine years."

But Farage replies: "What the British people want to know is when are Bulgarians going to be stopped from using our pavements? These are paid for by the British taxpayer and, if they can't be bothered to hover, frankly, they can go back home."

George Osborne will retort that only if we remain within Europe can we complete a pan-European plan to build a giant electric fire and drop it in the Adriatic Sea so any Syrian falling in gets instantly electrocuted.

Then the Vote to Leave Campaign will explain that once we're out of the EU, Poles will still be allowed to work on building sites, but no longer be allowed sharp objects so they have to drill holes using a balloon and they'll have to commute every morning from Poland and go back to Cracow when they need the toilet.

The proudest moment for David Cameron has been cutting child benefits for immigrants. What an advert for humanity, that one side says: "Through determination to stick up for Britain, we have secured the right to be utterly mean. Indeed, we are now proposing a Europe-wide Meanness Treaty, in which member states unite in an unprecedented pledge to reject any act of even the mildest fake kindness."

But their opponents rage that none of that will prevent 60 billion Bulgarians coming to live in Ipswich, each of them entitled to bring a Balkan mountain which will completely transform the topography of Suffolk.

So, the negotiations appear to have been pointless, as the arguments will be exactly the same whatever is agreed. Cameron's campaign will try to scare people as they did in Scotland, by informing us that if we leave the EU our fruit will explode and our cats will turn inside-out.

The referendum won't solve anything. If we vote to leave, Ukip won't be satisfied. Within a year, they'll be screaming: "Why should we be part of Earth? This country is being held back by having to travel on the same orbit as poor places like Mexico? And why should we have the same gravity as Morocco?"

And, if we vote to stay in, it will become clear these negotiations have been a contrived exercise to make Cameron look powerful. All the leaders wander into a room looking serious, then probably play games on their mobiles for seven hours, before emerging to say: "It's been a tough night, but we've finally come to an agreement that everything will be done differently, even in a different font. The Hungarians took a lot of persuading but we hope that settles everything."

It would serve them right on all sides if we voted to leave the EU and become a province of Peru.

Belfast Telegraph

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