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Divide and ruin
13 Mar, 2019

A huge Government defeat but not yet a victory for Remain

Charles Parselle reviews the government’s latest defeat and asks what will it take for MPs, so confident in their own ability to vote and vote again, to trust the electorate on whose behalf they supposedly hold their positions.


Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths, our bruised arms hung up for monuments’…Well, not quite, but we have at least one evening for satisfaction and relief as the second Brexit vote resulted in another huge defeat for Leave. The reality-based adults in the House of Commons are becoming more numerous and assertive, while the extreme Leavers seem ever more out of touch.

Boris Johnson, tawdry successor in the Foreign Office to Castlereagh, Canning and Palmerston, struck a forlorn, somewhat pathetic figure as he spoke from the back benches to a nearly empty chamber, though he had a fresh new haircut, quite like one of those doomed little oysters “whose coats were brushed, their faces washed, their shoes were neat and clean…’ but no one was there to listen.

However, no gloating, not only because that is a sure way to disaster, but also some reports suggest he may yet become Prime Minister, as being still the favourite among a large section of Tory MPs. It may dawn on Theresa May that something has now changed, and she may resign. After a disastrous premiership, the best thing she could do for this country now is to stay put long enough to see Brexit through to its final demise.

Shed no tears for her. She campaigned for Remain, and her arguments then were as sound as they still are now. Yet she took on the job out of pride and ambition, now hopefully turned to hubris. She divided her Cabinet into Leavers and Remainers, no doubt to ensure she remained indispensable.  It was a ‘Divide and rule’ strategy but she has only managed to achieve ‘Divide and ruin.’ Suzanne Moore rightly excoriated her in the Guardian: “I used to feel a bit sorry for her.  But that lunch, when I stared into the abyss and saw someone who has no need to make anyone else feel at ease, made me understand she is a dangerous, power-crazed maniac.” 

After the referendum, some prescient voices were saying that if Britain was to be saved from the disastrous consequences of Brexit, then it would have to be the Irish, and many people were struck by the poetic justice of that outcome. With luck, and we probably need more luck before we are through, the hardline Brexiters have been impaled on the spike of their own arrogance, which today is still in evidence and was exemplified just a few days ago by the appalling Northern Ireland Secretary, Karen Bradley.

All kudos to The Independent Group, whose personal futures are entirely uncertain but who have managed to move the national needle in the direction of sanity. Some kudos is due to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party imposed a whip that was only defied by three MPs, including Caroline Flint. Her excuse is that Doncaster voted 69% for Leave. On other side of the house, Richmond’s MP Zac Goldsmith has also been a steady vote for Leave, even though his constituency voted 72% for Remain. MPs can choose their loyalties, up to a point.

David Cameron took the genie out of the bottle and it is not going back in. Perhaps we should thank him because the genie was there all the time, though he didn’t realize it. The danger now is that whichever side wins, it will be hollow and fragile because half the country will disagree. The opinion writers are keeping rather quiet as vote after vote keeps the House of Commons busy and everyone else uncertain. Brexit-supporting opinion writers continue to write but mostly behind pay walls, most likely a metaphor for the entire Brexit project. This is a week for the House of Common to show what it is made of. It seems MPs do not mind how many times they are asked to vote, feeling themselves sophisticated enough to manage the complexity, but many of them are still aghast at the prospect of allowing the electorate to express their collective views again. This is what has to change.



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