Today’s choice for ‘A Book At Bedtime’ is the government’s draft Brexit deal. At daybreak the masterpiece was being referred to as a 500-page tome but its estimated length has now risen to 540 pp. That explains why the PM looked so calm and unruffled and at PMQs. No MP is going to risk brain damage by working through this Proustian monster. Even the wonkiest wonk in Westminster won’t read it all, and May stands to profit from her colleagues’ ignorance of the fine print.
Roger Gale, who once held the demanding role of children’s TV producer, spoke up for every workshy lazybones in parliament. He asked the PM to release ‘details’ (i.e. a three-line summary) of the agreement so that he and his pals can base their comments on fact rather than speculation, (i.e. avoid a 12-hour reading marathon.) What MPs really need is an audio-version narrated by a silky-voiced Remainer like Michel Barnier or David Cameron.
Jeremy Corbyn had an excellent day. He asked short, detailed questions that required similar answers. He targeted the PM with a yes-or-no query about ‘parliament’s sovereign right to withdraw unilaterally from any back-stop’. May, who has a ghost-like ability to duck and dive while standing still, produced a cascade of waffle. She spoke of the backstop’s nativity and its likely future.
‘There needs to be a back-stop, as insurance, but neither side wants to be in a back-stop,’ she flim-flammed. ‘We don’t want to be in a position where the EU would find it convenient to keep us in.’
Behind this smoke-screen lay an admission. Corbyn found it.
‘That non-answer confirmed that parliament won’t have that sovereign right.’
May failed to refute his conclusion. So the back-stop, (BS for short), is simply the EU by another name.
Peter Bone once spoke of raising a statue to May, ‘if she delivers Brexit.’ Today, he looked ready to toss her effigy into a boiling cauldron. He addressed her directly, (very unparliamentary), and with palpable menace.
‘You are not delivering the Brexit the people voted for. You will lose the support of many MPs and of millions of voters across the country.’
Kwasi Kwarteng lightened the mood by mentioning a 99-year old bell-ringer who has been tolling the hours at St Mary’s, Sunbury, for 87 uninterrupted years. Poor guy. His great-great-grandchildren will still be yanking the ropes by the time Brexit is done.
Speaker Bercow has been rebuilding his confidence since he emerged intact from certain bullying allegations. To the great delight of his fan-club (membership: one) he was back on top form today. He played the role of a Daffy Duck mascot at Disneyland. ‘There are visitors from overseas in the gallery,’ he preened. ‘Let us try to impress them not merely with our liveliness but with our courtesy.’ His status as a must-see landmark for day-trippers seems to please him enormously.
Straight after PMQs, Rory Stewart confirmed on BBC2 that the back-stop could be terminated only with the approval of a ‘panel’ composed of British and European representatives. In other words, we’re still in. And at some future date we’ll have to beg the EU for permission to leave the EU.
Checkmate to Brussels.