Boris Johnson And David Davis Leave The Brexit Project Hanging By A Thread

If today my colleagues look devious, self-indulgent, and incompetent - it's because they are
Simon Dawson / Reuters

Today is one of those days I doubt my own sanity - a day when a freshly-resigned Brexit minister actually said, irony-free, that we must ‘stick together to keep out Corbyn’.

In fact it is a bit worse than that, it’s a day which explains why people are turned off by today’s politics and politicians. It looks devious because it is, it looks self-indulgent because it is and it looks incompetent – because it is.

And describe Brexit (or more particularly David Davis’s third-time lucky resignation and now Boris Johnson’s) as a “shit show” and my Twitter reputation, such as it is, takes on a new life.

“Who the hell are you” is the question I’ve been asked the most. Well, the answer is nobody much. An unambitious backbencher, who half-heartedly voted remain, is pragmatic about the future but I hope vaguely principled when it comes to respecting referendum outcomes.

And this is exactly why my heart sank when I heard that Davis was going, and now Boris too. Neither are great mates of mine. Actually I find David rather too fixated with his own status and too uninterested in the detail of his brief. And the only time Boris has ever spoken to me was the last time he ran for the leadership. Maybe I should expect another call soon.

It is because of this that the Brexit project now hangs by the finest of threads. Backwards, a wall of Brexiteers link arms to claim that it’s a referendum cop out and not “what the people voted for”. Well I’m not sure about you but voters I know opted to leave for a range of reasons and with different levels of indignation. Some broke their green pens as they put their cross in the box, others added a faint question mark hoping that, on balance they were doing the right thing.

In other words, the referendum followed the pattern of almost every election that comes our way, and so anybody claiming to speak for 17.2million is more likely speaking for their small circle of friends and a bloke they heard in the pub.

Forwards, and remainers lie down in front of the government machine making almost the same claim - that whatever people voted it was not to damage the economy and negatively impact on jobs. And all of this with a majority of nine in the House, if the DUP remain on side. Change the Brexit secretary, the foreign secretary or even the leader but that does not change that simple fact. It is still nine. The challenges are still there but perhaps worse - any new Messiah will have to renegotiate our position internally as a party, externally with the country, and in Brussels with the European Commission and do all of this in nine months.

“No deal then,” they will say, but do they really think that Parliament, exercising its sovereignty in a very Brexit-like manner, will permit that? How about an election then? I’m equally bewildered. We might as well have a second referendum as that is what any election will become - the Conservatives punished for failure and Labour elected to discover in its own way what a party split on Europe feels like.

And all of this playing out under the beady eye of the European Commission. I’m reminded of the Tennyson poem about the Charge of the Light Brigade: “cannon to the right of them, cannon the left of them, cannon in front of them…boldly they rode into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell rode the 600.”

Earlier on Monday I recorded a short piece for Channel 4 News in which I was asked whether this was chaos, or ‘nothing to see here, let’s move on’. The truth is that the complications of Brexit have come home to roost, as was probably inevitable. It’s not a great day, but it is recoverable. We cannot simply issue orders to the Commission and expect them to be obeyed any more than we can (or should) to our own party. We should bank what we can now, leave the EU in March and continue to grind away at the bits that fall short of expectation. That’s what we do in business every day.

However, we have just made this a great deal harder, and made honouring the views of those 17.2million people an even bigger challenge than it already was.

Simon Hart is the Conservative MP for Carmarthen West


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