This week, a friend of mine suggested we sacrifice our Tuesday night watching the Champions League and tune into the latest Brexit farrago instead. One might think that for a political commentator, following the ongoing drama would be more exciting than Juventus’s Ronaldo-inspired comeback against Atletico Madrid. But my heart sank at the proposal, and it took a little while to identify why.
Analysing my sense of horror at what I was watching on the news, I realised that, the total chaos notwithstanding, it was the ongoing lies of the Brexiteers that were making me feel this way. It’s not just the leftover stench from the campaign promises in 2016. The lies and hypocrisies continue to this day. And I do not say that lightly.
The Leave campaign was largely premised on the idea that a deal with the EU would be achieved and benefit the UK. It was never seriously countenanced that we’d leave without one. Yes, I’m sure you will be able to find some anonymous Brextremist backbencher telling an empty hall about how good no deal will be, but it cannot seriously be claimed that it was on the ballot paper. Yet now many of the Brexiteers are pretending that No Deal is not only acceptable, but the only option that is really desirable.
Added to this, Boris Johnson, a former Foreign Secretary, lest-we-forget, has done a quite staggering disappearing act. A man who has never been shy of a camera or microphone seems ominously quiet at the moment.
It is arguable that only really Theresa May has acted like an adult at this most serious of times for our country. Her tenacity and sense of patriotic duty have not been matched by her talent, but, if nothing else, she deserves some credit for the manner in which she has conducted herself and her determination to do the right thing.
You can probably add Brexiteers Michael Gove and Geoffrey Cox to the list of grown-ups in the room too. Instead of quitting and leaving it to others to clean up their mess, they have worked to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Both have given tour-de-force Commons performances when their leader and government were against the ropes. Both have sensitive roles as regards to Brexit, but have managed to keep fighting for their principles and actually try to work towards Britain leaving the European Union. Yet, Charles Moore in the Spectator shouts that Gove is betraying Brexit, despite the fact he is one of the few Brexiteers actually voting to make it happen.
Because the real irony of all this, the thing that really made my stomach churn with anger on Tuesday evening, is that most of the Breixteer MPs are no longer voting for Brexit. They are getting others to do their dirty work. As Alistair Burt pointed out to Jacob Rees-Mogg on Twitter, he may have backed remain in 2016, but in 2019 it was he who walked through the lobby to support an agreement through which Britain leaves the EU. Rees-Mogg and his cohorts did not.
We in the media need to take some responsibility for the abject situation too. We’ve covered Brexit like it is sport, not a political issue with serious ramifications. We’ve been far too focused on the process, who is up and who is down, who won and who lost. Yes, there’s the token vox pops with some leavers in a pub on the news, but the real consequences of Brexit on people’s lives have been too readily ignored – the political minutiae apparently making for more compelling copy. While I don’t agree with David Herman’s conclusion on this site that the media “must take a large part of the responsibility” for our current predicament, I do not think we have covered ourselves in glory during the last two-and-a-half years either.
So now parliament will have another vote and play a few more games, while businesses and ordinary people wait for anything resembling a resolution. I don’t think that sense of despondency I experienced the other night is going to lift any time soon.