It has become a cliché to mention that you couldn’t make the Thick of It these days because actual politics has become so ridiculous. Yet it is difficult to avoid bringing it up after a day like yesterday.
David Davis addressed the House for the first time from the dispatch box since becoming Minister for Brexit , giving a statement about the latest plans to leave the EU. We were on tenterhooks – we were all about to learn what Brexit actually was going to mean! Davis said the whole procedure would be guided by four “key principles”, which are:
- the government will seek a national consensus on Brexit
- the government will put the national interest first and act in good faith towards European partners
- the government will seek to minimise uncertainty
- the United Kingdom will leave the European Union
I’m trying to think of something more vacuous Davis could have put forward – but I’m really struggling. The first principle is nonsensical – 48% of people voted against leaving, so getting every one of those people on side seems like an uphill battle. If he means getting all the nations to feel happy with the arrangements, I severely doubt Nicola Sturgeon can be talked around on this one.
The second principle is even worse. Was it necessary to announce national interest as a guiding principle? Really? Wait – I get the whole Eurosceptic thing, finally. Here I was trying to figure out how it fit into the national interest when actually it never did – which is why David Davis had to reassure us yesterday that it now does.
Onto the third: minimising uncertainty? There was a great way to do this: not holding the referendum in the first place. If avoiding uncertainty was such an important principle, I mean. Secondary to that might have been actually having a plan for how Brexit could be achieved after the vote took place. Or Davis having even a vaguely formed one to give to the chamber yesterday. As opposed to, well, more uncertainty. What I’m saying is they are not off to a great start on the third principle.
The fourth one is so stupid it’s shameful. It’s like saying you have four guiding principles to a housing bill you’re formulating and having one of them be “We will create a housing bill of some sort”. Shouldn’t the fact that the minister for exiting the European Union exists give us enough of an idea that exiting the European Union can be taken for granted at this point? Evidently not.
Davis at least sounded ministerial and weirdly confident while delivering this whiffle. The questions from the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party were so laughable, meanwhile, I could never cover even the top 10% of them without this article running into thousands of words. I’ll stick with my favourite: Peter Lilley asked why it would take two years to leave the EU when many nations have achieved independence in a much shorter time frame. His example was India. Considering estimates of people killed during Partition range from 200,000 to 2 million, perhaps Peter should have thought about this one a little more. I’m terrified that Brexit is going to turn out to be a total disaster, but even I don’t think it’s going to involve mass slaughter of millions.