Friday, July 28, 2017

Brexit: A time for fools and knaves

Since last year’s referendum to leave the European Union (Brexit) there has been a great deal of name calling on both sides of the argument — and no doubt this will continue. However, there was nothing quite as surprising as the description of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union as “thick as mince” and “as lazy as a toad”.

Not so much the epithets — there are many who would find them quite reasonable — but that this description of the Right Honourable David Davis came from someone who might otherwise be considered one of his most loyal supporters, the former head of the Leave Campaign in the referendum, Dominic Cummings.

His attack came after Davis spent a half-day in Brussels to open negotiations on Britain’s exit where he was pictured across the table from EU officials, grinning and noteless before fleeing back across the channel.

Reports are that Cummings has had a Road to Damascus moment and now believes the vote to leave the EU might have been an error, largely because what he describes as the “morons” in the Government are making a hash of the process.

He is said to believe that the full implications of what is required to leave the EU may not be understood by anyone in the Government right up to Prime Minister Theresa May.

This is not the first time the abilities of members of the Government have been called into question. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s gaffs have reached legendary proportions while Andrea Leadsom, once described by a senior Public Servant as “quite the worst Minister” he had ever worked with, regularly launches anti-EU tirades, one of the latest against the “unpatriotic” British Broadcasting Company for not coming down uncritically on the side of Brexit.

Priti Patel, the resolute Thatcherite, obsessed with hatred for the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn; Liam Fox, who believes it is “insignificant” to lower the country’s EU-ordained food standards to allow the importation of chlorinated chicken — described as a lazy and possibly dangerous way of cleaning the meat — from the United States.

And Michael Gove, who immediately contradicted Fox’s chlorinated chicken proposal, fuelling rumours of Cabinet dissent and seemingly taking every opportunity to present himself as the logical successor to May.   

While EU officials have generally kept their public opinions to themselves, privately they are appalled at the lack of knowledge shown by some of the most senior British politicians about the scope of the Brexit negotiations.

Why is this? How is it that with more than 300 MPs to choose from, so many incompetent characters have risen to the senior ranks of the Conservative Party?

Partly it is because that apart from a few high profile figures, Ministers have been chosen not from the entire party but from that segment that got behind Brexit in the referendum campaign.

The obvious exception to this is May herself, who carefully prepared her ground with a lukewarm endorsement of Remain, knowing that if her side won, she would at least stay on as Home Secretary, and if it lost, she would be in a position to make a grab for the top job given the Brexit mediocrity.

Then there is the fact that on both sides of politics there is a great deal of dead wood — MPs who have not and never will make the grade in government who hang on to their seats into their dotages and in some cases actually try to pass them on to their children.

Again there are exceptions: Ken Clarke, who has given excellent service in government and in the Parliament since elected in 1970, continues as the unofficial spokesman for the not insignificant number of Conservative MPs who still believe in the EU and who squirm at the antics of their Brexit Front Bench.

As a writer in The Economist magazine put it, Britain’s leaders are ploughing on scarcely acknowledging that the exit will involve compromises, let alone how damaging it is likely to be. “The longer they fail to face up to Brexit’s painful trade-offs, the more brutal will be the eventual reckoning with reality.”

So it seems in this grim period of the Brexit negotiations we must be content with fools who, through their ignorance, are destined to be judged by history as knaves. 

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