Hallowe’en. That’s the new cliff edge, or window ledge over a jagged cliff in the house of horrors we’re now all locked in. There’s still just enough oxygen to breathe. That nice Donald Tusk has put out some of the flames in the forest fire that was threatening to engulf us, but the fire’s still there, and there’s an awful lot of smoke. And there’s absolutely no guarantee that it won’t drive us to that attic room with the window ledge, and force us to jump off it.
It could have happened tomorrow. Many Tory MPs, and some Labour MPs, wanted it to happen tomorrow. Yes, they knew that many people were already struggling to get their medication, because supplies of many medicines are already drying up. They knew that that situation would be much, much worse if we did fall off that window ledge, and that some people were likely to die.
They knew that hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs, because the Government’s own papers have told them that. They knew that the IMF had said this week that we would have a serious recession, which could last for years. But they still wanted it to happen.
MPs are meant to be public servants. As public servants, they are meant to subscribe to “the seven principles of public life”, otherwise known as the Nolan principles. Anyone who wants to hold any kind of public office has to agree to abide by them. I know, because I’ve applied for roles that have insisted that I do that, and I’ve been happy to, because I generally try to follow them anyway.
The first is that “holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest”. The third is that they “must take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias”. I can’t see any way that choosing to harm people’s health and livelihoods, according to the impartial evidence that the Government has commissioned, isn’t a deadly serious breach of them.
we are at a point when we can’t trust our public servants not to inflict serious harm on us
But we are at a point when we can’t trust our public servants not to inflict serious harm on us. We can’t even trust our Prime Minister not to. And because many of them haven’t been making decisions that are in the public interest, and landed us in a situation where just one veto from just one EU leader could have pushed us off that window ledge, the risk remained, until the early hours of this morning, that we would fall off it at 11pm tomorrow night.
I’m writing this from Italy. I arrived yesterday and am due back on Sunday. My passport had a few days less than six months before it expired, and so I had to spend £188 on an emergency appointment to get a new one. I was so stressed that I forgot my current passport and had to go back on Monday. I then had to do more queueing and get more passport photos, for an international driving permit, which looks like something from the 1950s. Which should please Tory MPs. The photo machine told me, after five attempts, that the photo didn’t fit the guidelines. It then swallowed my money and refused to give it back. Welcome to Brexit Britain, folks. A brave new world of more bureaucracy and higher costs.
It already feels like a year since last Monday’s “indicative votes”, which showed, yet again, that there is no majority in Parliament for anything at all. MPs don’t want us to leave the EU without a deal, but they don’t want to vote for Brexit in any of the forms it could take. They don’t want another referendum and they don’t want to revoke Article 50. Like all of us, they don’t want to be in this mess at all, but they are, and they can’t find their way out of it.
Welcome to Brexit Britain, folks. A brave new world of more bureaucracy and higher costs
It was certainly a surprise when Theresa May announced, last Tuesday, that she would be talking to Jeremy Corbyn, to see if they could find a way out of the mess. Tory MPs called her a traitor. The Tory MPs, that is, who keep voting against everything and sometimes can’t even be bothered to turn up for the debates. As Stephen Barclay, the latest Brexit Secretary said, it was about “the numbers”. That, by the way, is the Stephen Barclay who told the House to vote for an extension to Article 50 and then went into the “no” lobby and voted against it.
Are the talks serious? Who knows? Theresa May had to look as if she was doing something different, in order to persuade the EU that there was “some new thinking” and stop us from falling off that window ledge. She has, of course, been threatening us with the window ledge for a very long time, and has recently given the impression that leaping off it might well be a price worth paying to keep her party together. But apparently she has now been convinced that it would break up the Union, and she doesn’t “want to be the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
How the hell this has only occurred to her now is literally anyone’s guess. I wrote about the risk to the Union straight after the referendum: Whoops, I slipped on a banana skin and broke Britain! But most politicians apparently forgot that there would now be a land border between a country still in the EU and a country that used to be called the United Kingdom and which could now be called – well, what? Broken Britain?
Anyway, the result of this penny dropping was May’s desperate dash, on an easyJet plane, to beg Merkel and Macron for an extension. Early this morning, she heard she had got it. Not the three months she had requested, and which she had already been told would not be forthcoming, and not the year that had been threatened, but six months. Most EU leaders wanted a year, to give us time for a “rethink”, which is EU code for another referendum. But Macron drew the line at six months.
the result of this penny dropping was May’s desperate dash, on an easyJet plane
And so, we have another cliff edge, or window ledge in our house of horrors. It probably isn’t long enough to give us the serious possibility of another referendum. May and Corbyn are very unlikely to come up with a compromise deal. Neither side has shown much taste for it, and it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. They also know that reaching a compromise with each other will facture their parties and perhaps even break them up. Many people seem to think a Tory split is more likely than a Labour split. I’d be surprised. Tories are very good at threats, but what they really, really like is power.
The numbers in the House of Commons haven’t changed. MPs are still opposed to everything and in favour of nothing. Most know Brexit isn’t a problem that can be solved to anyone’s satisfaction, since it was a blank slate for people’s fantasies, and fantasies don’t correspond all that well with the reality of unpicking 44 years of legislation. Tory MPs want to get rid of May, but they can’t have another vote of confidence in her until December and they can’t risk an election they think they would probably lose. At best, it would probably lead to another hung Parliament, and there we go, back to square one.
So far, according to a new report from Standard & Poor’s, £66 billion pounds has been spent on Brexit. It is, apparently, taking up 98 per cent of civil service time. There’s currently no way to make Brexit happen, and no will to stop it. We are literally stuck in limbo. Poetry lovers might remember that limbo is the first circle of Dante’s hell. Dante was from Tuscany, which is where I’m writing this. There’s a statue of him in the nearest town. I’m sure he’d take no pleasure in reminding us that there are still six circles of hell to go.