A country seeking to leave a large trading block with a substantial degree of social integration has had a number of high-level discussions, in an effort to agree proposals for the terms of separation. Following several failures to reach a unified position to present to the block’s negotiators, the prospective departing country’s head of government arranged a gathering of the most senior cabinet members, the aim being to establish a consensus.
Present at the conference were the Premier, regarded as the Primus Inter Pares (PIP), the Minister of Finance (MOF), the Minister of the Interior (MOI), the Minister of the Exterior (MOE), the Minister of Defence (MOD) and the Minister of Trade (MOT). In the absence of the Cabinet Secretary, minutes were taken by Pip, who added a post-meeting note. A full transcript was inadvertently leaked. It is reproduced below:
PIP: Good morning everyone. We all know why we are here, so to open our debate I will say only that we must devise a policy, which I will then convey to the other side.
MOT: Sounds as though you are about to depart this life, Pip:
PIP: I don’t think we have time to waste on facetiousness, Mot: Let me stress that we are holding a crunch meeting.
MOD: Oh, Pip, we’ve held so many crunch meetings that it’s a wonder we haven’t already been reduced to powder.
PIP: More frivolity. As usual, you are witty and unhelpful in equal measure. If you need further emphasis, we must regard this as the crunch-crunch meeting – the crunch of crunches. I am not prepared to let anyone leave here until we get a result that satisfies me.
MOI: Then you’d better start wheeling in the beer and sandwiches. I missed breakfast to get here and I’m ravenous.
PIP: Excellent, Moi: Fasting sharpens the mind, so I expect a major contribution from you. And kindly forget the victuals for an hour or two. You’ve had a lot to say to the public recently. This is your chance to sound off to your colleagues – and do try for once to avoid putting your foot where your mouth is.
MOE: Just a moment, PIP: I’d like to make a point here. I’m in charge of foreign affairs, which makes me the country’s top diplomat. You spoke of the other side. I would prefer to call a spade a spade and give it its real name – the enemy.
PIP: What a diplomat you are. More like a bull in a china shop. Heaven knows why I appointed you, but just remember that what the Pip giveth, the Pip taketh away – maybe. Watch your step.
MOE: Don’t threaten me. Bear in mind that primus inter pares means first among equals. The pecking order can change.
PIP: No doubt, but not in favour of a twit like you. I doubt that you could find your face with both hands.
MOE: That’s rich coming from a perfidious backstabber and turncoat. We all know you as Janus, but I don’t think you could find your hands with both faces.
PIP: Clearly you have nothing of importance to say, so shut up. I’d like to hear some constructive observations. You haven’t said anything yet, Mof.
MOF: I’m keeping my cards close to my chest.
MOI: Some cards. Some chest. You haven’t got a hand worth playing. A pair of deuces at most, I’d say.
MOF: Well, you’d be wrong, as always. If you must know, I have a full house.
MOI: That’s not good enough. It can be beaten by four of a kind, let alone a straight flush, which is even better, especially an ace-high one.
PIP: If you two have finished airing your knowledge of poker, perhaps you would address our problem and let us see whether you have anything other than card games in your heads, not that I have much hope in that respect.
MOD: Hey, Pip, you’re supposed to be in charge here. What about some leadership from the top? At least give us guidance.
PIP: That’s what you lot are here to give me, dimwit. The idea is that you provide me with your respective visions of the way ahead and I try to fuse them into a whole.
MOE: Pardon my use of homophones, assuming you know what they are, but the only whole you’ll fuse them into is a black hole. For months now you’ve been vacillating, procrastinating, prevaricating –
PIP: That’s enough ‘ings’ for the moment. I’ve already told you to dry up, so be quiet unless I invite you to speak again. We haven’t heard from you for a while, Mot: Say something!
MOT: I’m getting flak from businesses large and small. Trouble is they’re in conflict. The big ones want us to stay in the block to avoid disruption, while the little ones are keen to get out because they’re bogged down trying to meet what they see as irrelevant standards imposed on them by bureaucrats from the block’s centre, who don’t seem to be accountable to anybody. My suggestion is that we should temporise.
MOT: Well, we’re not going to satisfy all demands, no matter what we come up with here, so I think we should drag this affair on until everybody is fed up with it, we get some half-baked offer from the block and arrange another public vote. We could specify turnout and majority conditions that aren’t likely to be met because the result will probably be as close as the original plebiscite, so that would lead to a third try, and so on. What one might call a neverendum.
PIP: Rubbish! Look, I don’t think I’ll get a sensible suggestion from any of you, which means we shan’t come to an accord here, so – hey, who threw that shoe at me? Ah, you, is it, Moe? Hmn, handsome footwear. Top brand. Indicates that you’re being paid too much. Anyway, you’ve slipped up. I’m keeping your size ten and you’re fired, with immediate effect. You may now leave the room, limp along the drive and see if you can hail a taxi because as from this moment, you don’t have a ministerial limo. That’ll teach you to hurl brogues at your boss. Bye-bye. Anyone else minded to throw things? No? Good. Well, I’m going to tell the public that we’ve had a frank and productive talk, then I’ll do what I see fit.
MOT: You can’t dismiss my neverendum notion just like that.
PIP: Yes I can. It’s nonsense and I didn’t expect anything better from you. You’re a dolt, Mot and I’ve had enough of you. Will you write your letter of resignation or shall I do it for you? Either way, you’re going. If you hurry you might catch up with the former Moe. He’s sure to be making slow progress with only one shoe or in his socks. Maybe the two of you could share a cab.
MOF: You’re going too far, Pip. Next thing we know you’ll be firing all of us, then what will you do?
PIP: Much better than I’m doing now. You’ve given me the only good idea I’ve heard since this meeting started. With Moe and Mot gone, that leaves me with three of you, Mof, Moi and Mod. Consider yourselves sacked. If you get a move on, you’ll probably be able to overtake the other two nincompoops and squeeze into the same taxi, although that’s not really important because I anticipated this outcome and ordered one for each of you. Hop it.
Footnote. Pip’s thoughts after the meeting: I am reminded of Tom Lehrer’s song about a nuclear war ‘We will all go together when we go’. Well, everyone has gone – apart from me. What a relief to ditch that bunch of dunderheads. Now I’d like to get on with implementing the plan I had all along. Pity I can’t remember it.
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