A Very English Vice

A Very English Vice

Where would we be without hypocrisy? It may have been described (by a Frenchman, unsurprisingly) as “the tribute vice pays to virtue” but a life of complete virtue would be, frankly, intolerable.

So let’s enjoy the various hypocrisies our leaders have served up to us in recent weeks:-

  • Mrs May honouring her former press secretary, Robbie Gibb, with a knighthood having, rather nastily, attacked Cameron’s press secretary, Craig Oliver, for his own. However hard poor Sir Robbie worked, a good press is not really what one immediately associates with Mrs May’s time in office.
  • Dominic Cummings being outraged at being asked for work messages on his phone barely a few days after having sacked Sonia Khan, the Chancellor’s SPAD, after seeing her contacts with former colleagues on her personal phone. Even being ferociously pro-Brexit, according to reports, was not enough to save her from being frog-marched from the building.
  • Serial rebellers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg lecturing others on the wickedness of rebelling once.
  • A demand by the PM that members of his government sign up to his “Exit on 31/10/19 Deal-or-No-Deal” pledge while, apparently, exempting his own brother from this requirement. It still was not enough to stop Jo walking out. Still, resignations and defections are so fast and furious these days that they barely even get their 15 minutes of fame. Angela Smith – anyone?
  • Demands for a General Election at every possible opportunity followed by a refusal to vote for one (twice) when the opportunity arises. Who knew that Jeremy Corbyn was a fan of the St Augustine approach to politics?
  •  A demand for a People’s Vote, to be enacted only if the People vote in the Approved Way. Perhaps it should simply be renamed the Potemkin Vote.
  • Heart-rending statements about how one doesn’t enact democracy by shutting it down followed shortly thereafter by complete silence when the PM does just that. Might the £150,000 salary and Cabinet Member on the CV have something to do with this volte-face?

Well, there is nothing tremendously new in this, enjoyable as it all is and, my God, we need some enjoyment from Brexit amongst all the psychodrama. Still, Parliament is now prorogued for 5 weeks. The government is now seemingly unable to win any vote at all. The opposition hope they have done enough to stop a disorderly withdrawal on 31 October. The next deadline is 19 October by when a letter needs to be sent to the EU to ask for yet more time for the government’s homework to be handed in.

Is is possible that this pause could be put to good effect? There is faint talk that the Withdrawal Agreement with a NI-only backstop might be a way forward. The DUP would hate it of course but the government is no longer dependant on it for a majority. (Perhaps they could be bribed by a large bridge to Scotland. It could be planted with trees amongst which customs officials could hide to pounce on smugglers and unsuspecting traders defiling the sanctity of the Single Market.

Boris gets his garden bridge. The infrastructure investment (or spaffing money up a wall, as it might well come to be called) in the North will be enormous. Win-win, all round. Oh I know – what a time to be taking such a frivolous approach to an important issue. But it is no sillier an idea than any other which has been mooted and, frankly, at this point even silly ideas must surely be welcome.)

Still the government’s very weakness as a minority government might, paradoxically, make it easier to present this as a way forward if (and what a big if this would be) other opposition parties realise that the only way to stop a disorderly withdrawal from the EU is to…. well …..vote for an orderly one.

There is the option of a General Election of course but what are the chances of that returning anything other than another hung Parliament, in which case the whole dreary drama continues. No – an Irish solution needs to be found. Just as the Good Friday Agreement was based in essence on the Sunningdale Agreement from 1973 (an agreement which foundered when the intransigence of the ultras saw off a weak government. Oh the irony!) – “Sunningdale for slow learners” as Seamus Mallon put it – so it would be a fitting end to the Article 50 process if an orderly withdrawal was based on the agreement tentatively reached in December 2017 (which was then ditched for the now hated all-UK backstop). A NI only backstop is one quick – if imperfect – way out of the mess.

Of course, there is the teensy problem that Mrs May said – with the current PM sitting beside her nodding along – that no British Prime Minister could possibly agree to such an outrage – treating NI differently from the rest of the UK – as if this hasn’t been the way NI has been treated during its entire existence.  But that was then and this is now. Mrs May is no longer PM.

Boris is and he is quite superbly skilled in saying something today with absolute sincerity having said the complete opposite with equal sincerity only a few days previously. Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Presenting such an agreement as a testament to British negotiating skills and his determination to deliver Brexit on time would certainly not be past him. The EU would surely play their part by going along with the face-saving deception. Any recalcitrant ERGers could be reminded of what happened to the 21 rebels. The Opposition could claim that it was the Benn Act which forced the government to reach an agreement. And mostly everyone else would breathe a sigh of relief at the whole ghastly mess having reached some sort of denouement. No-one could possibly mind the monumental hypocrisy of everyone involved.

Yes – life is full of hypocrisies. But some of them can be useful ones.


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