Lies, Damned Lies and… Brexit

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How many molecules make a raindrop? How many raindrops make a puddle? How many puddles make an ocean?

Mad questions. Impossible answers. But no crazier than the minutiae ministers have been mulling over ever since the referendum.

Scratching their heads. Wishing they could scratch one another’s eyes out. While the rest of us just rub our eyes, with terminal exhaustion.

Until now.

Wake up, folks. Something’s happening at last!

The can being kicked along so long is finally running out of road. Not because ministers have finally got their shhh you-know-what together, but because the lords have tipped a bucket of it all over them.

They’ve sent the proposed Brexit legislation back to the commons with enough changes to fundamentally switch the departure from ‘hard’ to ’soft’.

According to the Daily Mail they’re ‘traitors in ermine’ – betraying the 17.4 million voters who plumped for out.

The paper conveniently forgets how it praised the upper house to the rooftops when it stood up to Tony Blair, and omits any reference to the 16.1 million voters who wanted to remain in.

Still, as the old hacks’ saying goes, ‘never let the facts stand in the way of a good story’.

But, visceral hatreds aside, the sclerotic phase of the debate really is drawing to a close.

With the EU Withdrawal Bill’s return to the commons, which now can’t be long delayed, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will be forced into making choices.

They may well be forced into choosing things they don’t want – by their own backbenchers.

Both Labour and the Tories are now the loosest of loose confederations of warring tribes, tearing chunks out of one another over Brexit.

But if the remainers on both sides hold their nerve, they’ve got a clear majority in favour of upholding a fair few of the peers’ amendments. Making the landing outside the European Union a lot less bumpy than Theresa May had in mind.

Both business and trade union leaders would uncork the champagne at that. And the vast majority of Irish eyes would be smiling too.

Of course Jacob Rees-Mogg and his fellow hardline Brexiteers, both on the Tory backbenches and in cabinet, will scream betrayal. But now could be a moment for a reality check.

In June 2016 the question put to the British people was as follows: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

That was it. Yes or no.

There was nothing written in invisible ink about the Customs Union, the Single Market, the European Free Trade Association, the Norway model, the Canada model, the Canada plus model, the Canada plus plus model or any other model, not even Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss. Doubtless to the disappointment of the Daily Star.

The details were left to the politicians to sort out. That’s what they’re paid for. The people were not asked.

So maybe, when the Tory right-wingers and their tabloid cheerleaders claim the will of 17.4 million voters is being flouted if Britain does anything less than give Europe the bird, their noses might be growing.

They’ll say it anyway. And go on saying it.

There’s a dispute over whether the saying ‘a lie repeated often enough become a truth’ should be attributed to Goebbels or Lenin. Certainly sounds more Karl than Groucho Marx.

No offence meant to anyone, but it’s worth bearing the expression in mind. Maybe a line from John Major, ridiculed at the time, finally has a relevance. ‘It’s time to get back to basics.’

The decidedly dapper Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, with London Broadcasting and Sky News. He’s interviewed every Prime Minister from Harold Wilson to Theresa May. Aside from his reporting duties he’s also a talented author. Follow him on Facebook & Twitter

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