For a moment, it looked as though sanity had been restored. When I landed at Budapest airport, to have holes drilled into my jawbone, the news of the Supreme Court ruling had just broken. As the cabin crew wrestled with the doors, I gazed at my phone and watched the words leap out. “Unlawful.” “Void and of no effect”. “Unanimous”.
I was on my way to have dental work triggered by Brexit-induced gnashing of teeth. I’m not joking. I’ve written before about what Brexit seems to have done to my teeth. I was due to see a man called Attila, who would do something called a “sinus-lifting bone graft” and a “bone augmentation”, before screwing some “abutments” into newly drilled holes. It didn’t sound nice. It sounded even less nice when Attila the Hun-garian told me he had bad news. I know, I wanted to say. Our political situation is now almost as bad as yours!
I didn’t, of course. I’ve learnt that even the nicest people sometimes seem to think there’s a lot be said for a “hard man” leader. Attila told me there was another problem with another tooth. There were cysts at the base of its roots, which could poison my whole system. He didn’t exactly say that we would have to drain the swamp. He did say we’d have to take the tooth out. Which would mean more digging, more drilling, another “sinus-lifting bone graft” and at least another couple of grand. The moral was clear. If I’d thought I was on my way to “getting it done”, I had another think coming.
I emerged from the clinic with another giant hole in my mouth, alien bone, alien tissue and an ice pack clamped to my swollen jaw. The worst bit had been the hammering. I felt as if I was being trepanned. Back in my hotel, I lay down on my bed, whipped out my painkillers and my iPad and gorged on the Supreme Court. Better than Jane Austen! Better than Keats! The woman in the spider brooch had written prose as cool as any ice pack, prose to chill the blood of any Tory politician. “Parliament has not been prorogued,” she said. “It is for Parliament, and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker, to decide what to do next.”
For several hours, it was possible to think that our unelected Prime Minister would be cowed. Legal experts called the verdict “historic” and “devastating”. Even the Daily Mail used the word “humiliating”. Finally, it seemed, there was going to be some kind of check on this march to nihilism, to Bannonism, this march, in fact, to mob rule. Now the Prime Minister would have to at least say sorry. Wouldn’t he?
Would he, hell!
A grinning Boris Johnson, bleary-eyed in New York, told the world that he didn’t “agree” with the Supreme Court’s ruling. The eleven most senior judges in his country had ruled that he had broken the law, but the man with no law degree said he didn’t “agree”. In a Cabinet conference call, the Leader of the House backed him up. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who asked the Queen for permission to undertake the unlawful proroguing, actually said that the Supreme Court’s ruling was “a constitutional coup”.
But the Attorney General would have to resign, wouldn’t he? The man who gave the legal advice that it was just fine and dandy to go ahead and suspend Parliament for five weeks, and pretend it had nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit, even though the collective howl from the Tories is that this is all about “frustrating Brexit”?
You’d have thought so. You’d have thought that when he, and all other MPs, had been summoned back to the House of Commons after its unlawful suspension, he would show some tiny glimmer of remorse.
Did he, hell!
Looking like some pumped up pantomime dame, he screeched that no, he wouldn’t be resigning, no, it wasn’t his fault, no it was, in fact, all Parliament’s fault! “This Parliament is a dead Parliament,” he screamed, “It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these green benches!” Yes, he really did say that. He really did say that it was everybody else’s fault.
And then there was his boss. Last night, Boris Johnson told this country’s elected politicians that the Supreme Court verdict was “wrong”. When he was asked if he would ask for an extension to Article 50 if a deal has not been agreed, as the law demands, he said “no”. He referred to that law, the Benn act, repeatedly as a “surrender bill”. He used words like “sabotage” and “betrayal”. And when an MP who has had death threats asked him to think about the language he was using, he looked bored.
“We stand here Mr Speaker,” said Paula Sherriff, the MP for Dewsbury, “under the shield of our departed friend. With many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day. And let me tell the Prime Minister – they often quote his words. Surrender act. Betrayal. Traitor. And I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language – and it has to come from the Prime Minister first.”
When he heard this, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, shrugged. “I have never,” he said, “heard such humbug in all my life.”
Tracy Brabin, who took over the seat vacated when Remain campaigner Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist, just days before the EU referendum, also begged him to calm his language. “The best way to honour” Cox, said the Prime Minister, as Labour MPs gasped, was to “get Brexit done”.
Today, in a Commons debate on inflammatory rhetoric, the Prime Minister was asked to apologise. He didn’t even bother to turn up. Instead, he went to a meeting of the 1922 Committee, for Tory backbenchers, where he said he would continue to use the phrase “surrender bill”, because it was playing well in the focus groups and polls.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, his friend Donald Trump is being impeached. Trump doesn’t care. Boris doesn’t care. He’s still 15 points ahead of Labour in the polls.
The best we can hope for now is for the opposition parties to unite to limit the harm. It’s possible they will succeed in stopping a no-deal Brexit on 31st October, but if Boris Johnson wins his “people versus Parliament” election, the damage will only be delayed. And after the desperate shenanigans of Labour’s conference this week, its chance of winning a clear majority in an election is precisely nil.
Perhaps, by some miracle, the opposition parties could pass a law that would force the Prime Minister to bring back May’s deal, and they could vote on it, on the condition that it’s followed by a “confirmatory ballot”. This would be the sensible option, if they can get their act together. It’s not impossible, and we have to hope.
For the moment, one thing is clear. Yes, Attila, we have our own Viktor Orban. And quite a lot of the “British people” seem to think he’s doing quite well.