“What do you make of this Brexit business, then?”
With the prospect of family Christmas get-togethers looming, this might be a question to dread.
First up, it’s still an issue on which Britons tend to be divided – and one that can provoke strong feelings, particularly after a sherry or two.
Second, you might not have been paying attention since last year’s referendum (Leave won).
So how to perfect your Brexit chat and navigate this political hot potato over Christmas?
Avert a row
It’s Christmas dinner, and a relative is letting rip on Brexit. You don’t agree and you’re starting to get riled. How can you avoid another family row?
You could try a Brexity joke, asking the host if sufficient progress has been made on the starter to move on to the next phase of the meal.
Or perhaps throw everyone by wondering aloud whether the turkey will be washed in chlorine in years to come.
If this bombs (it probably will, let’s face it), remind them of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for a Christmas “ceasefire” from insults about Brexit.
In that spirit, try one of the ready-made peace offerings in this article when the BBC asked Remain and Leave campaigners to suggest something positive about the other side.
Select one as appropriate and watch everyone around the table relax. Hopefully.
Sound scarily informed
Your father-in-law at Christmas lunch – or the boss at your office party – starts asking you about the negotiations. You want to sound at least a little bit informed. Here are a few tips from BBC Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming to stop them in their tracks.
- Mention “tariff rate quotas”. This is weapons-grade jargon and no-one will want you to explain it. (They allow a certain amount of products such as lamb from New Zealand’s to be imported duty free)
- Suggest a bilat: When two leaders meet in a small room for an awkward handshake, most normal people would describe what happens next as a “chat”. Not in Brexit world, where it is called a “bilateral” or – if pushed for time – a “bilat”. As in “May and Tusk had a really positive bilat this morning”.
- “Oh, that was in the guidelines”: The EU has stuck religiously to the guidelines approved by leaders in April. They should provide a safe response if you’re caught off guard (unless the other person has memorised them, in which case you’re in trouble).
The post-dinner Brexit conversation has been dragging on for hours, and you’re desperate to get to the pub.
How to box it off without putting anyone’s nose out of joint?
Declare that “Brexit means Brexit”. Theresa May’s slogan is hard to argue with, and will leave everyone scratching their heads as you head out of the door.
Say “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” with a knowing wink. It’s become the negotiations’ catchphrase, used by both sides to keep everything on the table. Ministers sometimes use it to fend off tricky questions. Deploy it here and keep everyone happy as you make your excuses.
Avoid Brexit altogether
Perhaps the safest option – just don’t go there. It’s an approach suggested by The Spectator’s Lara Prendergast, who has bemoaned people’s insistence on debating Brexit at social events.
“My approach is to avoid telling people how I voted in the referendum,” she says.
“I have taken to saying ‘would you mind if we talked about something else?’ There’s no topic more divisive and more boring.
“People used to say you don’t talk about sex, politics or religion – I think maybe Brexit should be the fourth one on that list.”