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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures?

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures?

View of parliament from Westminster Bridge

With MP’s on their hols the fighting seems to have fizzled out. But just out of view guns are being cocked, bayonets fixed and opposing lines of troops are crawling ever closer to one another. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the mother of all battles is fast approaching.

In war, truth is the first casualty, according to the ancient Greek writer Aeschylus.

Fair to say that here and now the silly season’s come a cropper too.

Our lords and masters/mistresses are supposed to be off playing with the kids, drawing breath and reminding themselves of the meaning of the words ‘common’ and ‘sense’.

Instead, they’re panting with eagerness to rip the shreds out of everything in range. Or out of it, case may be.

But let’s start with early victims. Like truth. And remind ourselves of the extra £350 million a week for the NHS that Brexit would bring.

Fact. That was a non-fact. The true cost of our EU membership is around £230 million. And the money we could have saved has already been earmarked to cover the cost of leaving.

That, and a lot more besides.

The clear signs that the post-Brexit recession is set to come far sooner than economists have been predicting is already ratcheting the bill upwards.

And there are other ominous and telling little signs. Like the bailout fund being prepared to prop up businesses at risk of collapse in a no-deal scenario.

Then there’s the leaked civil service email revealing that we probably wouldn’t be able to prevent overseas operators nicking our fish if we’re no longer part of international arrangements.

That’s on top of fears in Whitehall that there could be a sudden spike in organised crime, including people smuggling.

Also a bit scary that day-to-day necessities like food and medicine might suddenly find themselves in short supply, at least for a while. Cue the real risk of consumer panic.

Oh, what a laugh it all is.

A comedian once remarked that joke-telling is all about timing. Pointing out that if the funny man turns up a week before or a week after the audience, the gags don’t work. Bad timing.

It matters in politics too.

The Labour leader has already missed his moment to have a crack at collapsing the new government. And won’t get another chance till the commons comes back on September 3rd.

By which point time will have almost run out, if he wants to prevent the no-deal Brexit currently scheduled for the end of October.

He can still have a go, and there are enough top Tories howling with anguish at the thought of a chaotic departure to overturn their party’s one-vote majority.

But, and here’s the huge but. Choosing the actual date of a general election is within the gift of the Prime Minister.

And, whatever else you care to say about him, Bojo is not an idiot.

All he’s got to do is hold off the big day till November, when we’re already out of the EU.

‘By George,’ the 15-20 per cent of voters currently backing the Brexit Party will say, ‘he’s done it’.

Meaning they’ll be switching back to the Tories before you can say jolly hockey sticks. Which puts Bojo back in power with a proper majority at last, and free to tell Johnny Foreigner to shove it in language he can’t fail to understand.

It’s a no-brainer, and it’s scaring the pants off the clear majority of MP’s of all colours who’re horrified at what such an outcome could do to the nation’s financial welfare.

An irony that the parts of UK likely to be hardest hit will be those very left-behind areas where the leave vote was strongest.

Yeah but, no but yeah but it’ll all be all right in the end, according to the dedicated cadre of Brexit ultras. A price worth paying, to coin the phrase.

But these same people were saying a couple of years ago there was no need to be silly now. That, naturally, we’d reach a sensible accommodation with our friends and partners across The Channel.

However, attitudes have manifestly hardened, both in the long and the short term. As John Major, David Cameron, Theresa May and even the ghost of Margaret Thatcher would ruefully attest.

Whatever’s on offer, you get the impression, they’ll always demand more. Where will it all end? Gunboats up the Seine? Who knows?

But if all this sounds a bit apocalyptic, consider where we’re actually at.

There is talk of alliances between remain-leaning MP’s of all stripes, trying to stitch together a Government of National Unity, like we had in the Second World War.

In tandem with that comes wild talk of Jeremy Corbyn getting a taxi to Buckingham Palace and asking the Queen to Do Something. This on the back of mutterings that Bojo might refuse to step down even if MP’s tell him to.

What is Her Madge to say? ‘Orff with his head?’ Hardly. And high-risk anyway. Think Charles 1st. Cut right down to size, so to speak.

It’d be funny if the stakes weren’t so terrifyingly high. We really are looking a full-blown constitutional crisis, on top of everything else.

And the Labour leader actually has written to the nation’s top civil servant, asking him to rule out the possibility of Britain exiting the European Union in the middle of a general election campaign.

Might sound like a kid putting up his hand in class and saying ‘please sir, that boy at the front is being really horrid’.

But there can be little question that Boris Johnson is gearing up for an autumn poll, whether it’s forced on him or not.

Charging up and down the country promising everything short of free beer for all the workers, or free cocaine for all the journalists? Prime Ministers only do that when they’re reaching out, to connect with the electorate.

Seems quite the thing anyway, what with the two halves of the iconic Tintagel Castle in Cornwall finally being linked up again this week.

The thing only got built in the first place after we Brits had a spat with our chums sur the continong, and didn’t win.

Everyone lost out later when the bit in the middle fell into the sea, and it’s taken centuries to plug the gap.

Bridge over troubled waters? And the rest …


Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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