Brexit “Pants on fire!”

Brexit “Pants on fire!”

by Miles Saltiel
article from Tuesday 17, July, 2018

POLITICIANS have never had much of a reputation for straightforwardness – it is of the essence of their calling that hard lines get softened. We are more than a century away from Victorian standards of formal probity but even so, electors still look for a bedrock of reliability – values, intentions, character. These days, this finds expression as “authenticity”, a weak check in the face of reckless lies. This is poisonous. But here we are: our civic watchword has come to be “pants on fire!” Let’s take a selection of examples from the last week.

On Tuesday 10 July, reports emerged of some formerly less-publicised views of Michael Gove. He likes to invoke the template of the Irish Free State, which achieved dominion status in 1922 but had to wait another 27 years to become a republic. He does extend himself to touch on “some difficulties along the way in the 1920s”, ie, what you or I would call a civil war. (This is a template?)

On Wednesday 11 July, the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker, was seen staggering at the NATO summit. He has a reputation for bibulousness, so explanations that he was suffering an attack of sciatica were - how to put it? - not universally accepted (though you know what? He did turn up with a wheelchair).

Also on Wednesday, the Sun published its interview with President Trump, who predicted that May’s current plans would “probably kill off” a trade deal between the US and the UK. At their joint press conference the following day, he said that such a deal was “absolutely possible”, enabling Liam Fox to argue that Britain will have a great deal of freedom to negotiate it. But almost everyone else is taking Trump’s row-back as a belated diplomatic nicety. (No surprise by the way, that he should have told May to sue the EU when she kicked off negotiations; great minds…)

And on Thursday 12 July, HMG published its post-Chequers White Paper on Brexit. This 104-page document addresses “external tariff” and “dispute-resolution” only by ellipsis: neither gets an explicit reference. (I‘m sure I just wrote, “This is a template?”)

Now let’s turn to the main event, the reputation of Theresa May since the Chequers summit. 

§  Steve Baker says she has presided over a “cloak and dagger” plot to undermine Brexit, in a move that will “blow apart” public trust in democracy.

§  David Davis calls it “dishonest” to claim that he offered no alternative to the Chequers approach, with what purports to be his Department’s alternative leaked here.

§  In his resignation letter, Boris Johnson wrote that May’s plans “stick in the throat,” and that he could not “in all conscience champion them”. 

These things have consequences. We do not know what Iain Duncan Smith said to May on Wednesday to make her “very emotional”. I’d guess he intimated that her student politics meant that he and others were no longer able to accept her word. 

So far, May has been lucky with her Commons arithmetic. This week, however, her whips may falter, as Baker is now free to exercise his formidable organisational talents through the European Reform Group (ERG) to frustrate them. 

Yesterday, the report stage of the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill came to the Commons and four ERG amendments passed by majorities of just three after the Government decided it was better to accept them. This led to Tory remainers voting against the government but four Labour MPs providing Theresa May with a majority.

Today MPs will debate the report and third reading of the Trade Bill. Both sittings will test May’s Commons position after the Chequers summit. This without taking account of future resignations or letters to the ’22. In a post-truth world, the bar before May is not so high. Even so, a drip-feed of “pants on fire!” among her nominal supporters does nothing to help her surmount it. Shortly her coup d'état faces its first constitutional test.

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