THE great political drama of the week has been enhanced by some colourful language. Theresa May’s unwinnable deal has been described as “a £39bn pig in a poke” which will turn Britain into a “vassal state”.

It was, of course, Boris Johnson who employed the classical illusion to a vassal state. It comes from a Latin word, vassallus, which meant servant. A vassal was a person who owned land on condition that he swore allegiance to a king or prince. It wasn’t a bad position to be in – far better than being a peasant or a serf who owned nothing.

A vassal state was a country or province in ancient China which had to pay money, and render military assistance, to its superior. This is the relationship Mr Johnson was trying to invoke, so he will undoubtedly be pleased to see the EU trying to form a European army as it will mean Britain will not have to render any military assistance.

“Vassal” is a very Boris word, whereas former Brexit Secretary David Davis employed a more everyday term to explain how Britain was being sold a pup.

A poke was a bag or a pouch – a pocket is therefore a small bag – in which a farmer at a market sold a suckling pig, which was a valuable and tasty commodity. However, there was often subterfuge because the pig in the poke could be swapped at the last minute for something cheap and far less tasty.

The purchaser would find out he had been duped when he opened his poke and let the cat out of the bag – he’d bought a moggy not a piglet. Or he would find that he had been sold a pup – again literally.

This is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Every language has a saying involving a pig or a cat and a bag or a sack. For instance, the French talk of “acheter un chat en poche” while the Germans have “die katze im sack kaufen”. If we end up with a no deal Brexit, will we be able to keep the analogy?

The Northern Echo:

Darlington council chair

WHILE MPs are worrying about their seats, in Darlington, council chairgate continues. A couple of years ago, the council converted its debating chamber into a wedding venue and sold off its 60 wide-armed leather chairs at £100 each.

They were made in 1969 by well known furniture maker Peter Hoyte. Now we learn that a pair of the chairs have been restored – complete with the crest of the borough of Darlington – and shipped to Japan for £4,500.

But why should Darlington have movable chairs with notepads built into the arms rather than the fixed wooden benches that most chambers enjoy?

The Northern Echo: VINTAGE: The chairs as they were, in situ at Darlington's town hall council chamber.

The chairs in Darlington Town Hall

The story goes that the Government allowed Darlington to build its new town hall as a sop following the closure of the North Road railway workshops in 1966 and the loss of 3,500 jobs. However, since 1958 a Local Government Commission had been reviewing Britain’s council boundaries, so as there was no certainty that Darlington would keep its own council, the Government insisted that the town hall should be easily convertible into private offices.

As a result of the review, in 1974 Darlington became a district council beneath Durham County Council, but by then it was too late – Princess Anne had opened the town hall on May 27, 1970, without a traditional debating chamber and with comfy chairs for councillors to slouch in and to sell off when times got tough.