Stand up to the incompetent Brexit bullies

Published by The i paper (11th June, 2018)

You might think an outbreak of trade war would make even the most ardent Brexiteer question the wisdom of quitting the world’s biggest trading block. Instead, we discover that Boris Johnson, leader of the Eurosceptic gang, told a private dinner that he is ‘increasingly admiring’ of Donald Trump as this dismal US president flirts with despots and fuels economic instability. ‘Imagine Trump doing Brexit,’ he said. ‘There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos… it’s a very, very good thought.’

Preaching chaos theory is fine if you are cushioned from the impact of disruption by privilege and wealth. Less so for many of the fearful masses who flocked to back Brexit based on Johnson’s dodgy claims of taking back control and transforming our future. This is why cliff-edge withdrawal remains so concerning: it would fall hardest on the most vulnerable sections of society. Yet still the political shenanigans continue, with tantrums and threats round the Cabinet table, while the nation bumbles along a path to departure with little idea of its end destination.

The Foreign Secretary’s sudden positivity about an appalling president emerged just as a summit exposed the White House opening up alarming divisions with allies on key issues ranging from Iran and Russia through to climate change. His adulation was poor timing. But, as Barack Obama suspected, Johnson is just Trump with better hair; an egotistical buffoon who flip-flops on important issues, believes his own publicity and focuses only on his own career. He is the worst Foreign Secretary seen in my lifetime.

Johnson moved beyond a joke a long time ago. Yet this is the face of ‘global Britain’ presented to the world. The fact he remains in such a crucial post in spite of his gaffes and self-serving petulance serves only to spotlight the sad weakness of a Prime Minister who has shrivelled in power. But he is far from alone in clinging to his Cabinet job despite glaring unsuitability thanks to the fragility of Theresa May’s reign and sharp divisions among Tories over the Brexit they are unleashing on Britain.

Take Chris Grayling, a pleasant chap who bounces around the Cabinet table leaving disaster in his wake. He was such a woeful Justice Secretary that his successor spent much of his time undoing damage, such as silly court charges, a prison books ban and a shameful contract to train Saudi Arabian prison guards. He was not much better as Leader of the House. Now he blames everyone but himself for rail meltdown – yet one predecessor claims to have blocked similar sweeping timetable changes, and his mismanagement plays into the hands of an opposition pledging nationalisation.

Political ineptitude is obviously not restricted to the nationalist right. Yet there does seem a significant trend among leading Brexiteers, that they flop in positions of power, which should give pause for thought at this critical time. Look at Iain Duncan Smith, the most lamentable Tory boss in living memory, who often springs up on the airwaves to deliver lectures on political leadership. Or Owen Paterson, widely considered the worst Environment Secretary in history, who infamously blamed badgers for moving the goalposts when asked about a failed cull.

Then there is Priti Patel, who evidently believes she should be our next Prime Minister, despite failing to cling on to the Cabinet’s cushiest job of doling out aid budgets that grow bigger each year. She posed as a person of principle – after running a department she wanted scrapped – then went rapidly native before being sacked for secret meetings with Israeli officials. Such is her insight into Brexit she argued we could tell Brussels to ‘sod off’ instead of paying our divorce bill.

Others are smarter but display gross hypocrisy. Dominic Cummings led a campaign proclaiming the restoration of British democracy, but declines to defend his actions in parliament. And while there was always something suspect about the chair of a Vote Leave campaign based in rural France, Lord Lawson’s words carried weight given his fine record in government, despite his later role as climate change denier. Now he has confessed he is applying for a carte de séjour, a card that British expats can obtain to strengthen their residence rights.

His fellow Brexit warrior Nigel Farage admits that two of his children have German passports, enabling them to retain the free movement their father condemned so loudly. The former Ukip leader who attacked the Brussels gravy train also refuses to give up his hefty EU pension after Brexit, asking ‘Why should my family suffer?’ There is an obvious rejoinder in that the disruption he sparked has cost Britain £25bn and seen growth slip behind major competitors. Meanwhile, his millionaire backer and close pal Arron Banks is caught telling porkies about links to Russia.

Yet these are the flops, failures and frauds who insist that Britain must follow them into the unknown, after pulling off one shock victory in a referendum due to wider forces shaking our world. They preach democracy but practice demagoguery. Now comes crunch time, with MPs given the chance this week to stand up to the Brexit bullies and see off their selfishness with a series of votes on amendments from the Lords.

Already we see sycophants joining whips in circling wagons round May, warning waverers that they risk putting Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. There would be worse long-term damage to Tory prospects with a hard Brexit. So as we approach the end game in this torturous debacle, will we see enough Tory MPs put patriotism and principles before ambition and loyalty to a discredited leader by protecting their nation from false idols? Otherwise we may not have to imagine the sort of breakdowns and chaos trademarked by Trump and desired by Johnson.

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