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22nd Sep 2017

Theresa May has rejected the Norwegian and Canadian models for Brexit and is pursuing the Beverly Hills Cop III model

Dion Fanning

As Theresa May spoke in Florence on Friday, as she threw around upbeat words like ‘creative’, ‘vibrant’, ‘ambitious’ and, most optimistically, ‘this will not go on forever’, it was possible to see what was taking place.

Brexit is now entering development hell, the place films go when they find themselves in a limbo between the original idea and the completion of an idea which may bear no resemblance to the original idea. If there ever is completion.

In the process, the project loses many writers, directors and stars who have been attached to it at various times, before it is finally released 17 years after it was first mooted, with a despairing sigh which lets people know that what they are watching is not worth the misery it has caused.

May, remarkably, still remains attached to the UK project, but as she threw around those words on Friday, it was easy to see her as the harassed executive of a studio standing in front of a new team of writers pleading for some fresh ideas, ideas that would somehow mimic the idea they had to move away from, but end up looking substantially different. Or at least not exactly the same.

When people threw out models for the UK to adopt, when they talked about the Canadian model and the Norwegian model, they ignored the model which seems to be most appropriate – the Beverly Hills Cop III model.

May rejected the Canadian and Norwegian models in Florence as she said the UK wanted something ‘bespoke’, another word which will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a meeting with anyone who is desperate for something to come out of a brainstorming session and thinks a series of abstract words will produce the right results.

Kingsley Amis may have described Beverly Hills Cop as an ‘absolutely flawless masterpiece’, but by the time the final part of the trilogy entered into production, they were crying out for some new ideas. Eddie Murphy rejected the concept of setting the film in London with Axel Foley teaming up with Sean Connery who would play a Scotland Yard detective. Another creative, vibrant and ambitious idea was the suggestion that the series could crossover with Crocodile Dundee with Murphy and Paul Hogan starring.

In the end – in the bitter end – they produced something which looked very like the previous movies, only not as good. Maybe no film was not better than a bad film.

“We can do so much better than this,” May said on Friday as she rejected the old models – and implicitly the idea of no deal – in search of something ‘bespoke’, but of course nobody knows what ‘so much better than this’ is, although some people have their suspicions.

Nigel Farage, of course, now doubts the appetite of May for the brave and adventurous Brexit he had dreamed of, treating words like ‘bespoke’ and ‘creative’ with the same disdain Alan Partridge had when Lynn said he would have to trade down his Rover for a Mini Metro, although it was now called a Rover Metro. “They’ve rebadged it, you fool.”

Farage had dreamt big, he had seen the potential for the Crocodile Dundee-Axel Foley crossover – he wanted something different to the original – and those big ideas were being pissed away by accountants, lawyers and people who wouldn’t know the dead hand of the European Court of Justice if it slapped them in the face with a workers’ rights ruling.

Now here was May proposing a transition period of ‘around two years’, and it remains to be seen how much work that ‘around’ will be doing over the next decade.

During last year’s referendum, May was criticised for her failure to campaign more vigorously for a Remain vote, but she seems determined to make up for that now, talking on Friday about a close and productive relationship with the EU where there would be tariff-free trade and an unprecedented level of co-operation in security. Indeed, it was easy to be persuaded that when the messy and protracted business of almost leaving the EU is completed, when all the models out there have been rejected, all that will be left will be for the UK to suggest that perhaps they should have even closer co-operation with their friends in Europe, co-operation which may be best served in a newly imagined model as part of, say, the European Union.

Because if May’s attempts to get creative are just noises masquerading as ideas, Brexit’s organising principle of ‘taking back control’ is the emptiest of abstractions and in every area that matters, Britain’s interests are better served not by a cliff edge exit, but by a transition, ideally a transition that goes on for a long, long time.

May insisted that this transition will have a time limit so the UK may not be in development hell forever, but that is only what they are thinking today. Tomorrow they may have to reimagine it all again, or do what Boris Johnson is doing and run on the old campaign because nobody can think of anything else.

Who knows when the plans around transition will change. Maybe development hell will go on and on. Maybe somebody will realise that the last thing they want is to green light this project and one day find themselves in a cinema looking at this turkey with an audience who are wondering how on earth this movie got made in the first place.