The Spectator - 07.09.2019

(Barré) #1

the spectator | 7 september 2019 | 15


Magic Grandpa may win the battle but lose his war

be, then, if the Brexit party actually became
the impediment which stopped us leaving
the EU? Boris Johnson’s scorched earth
policy so far has only partly been directed
at the Remainers within the parliamenta-
ry Conservative party. Its chief aim was to
shoot the Brexit party’s fox, or to ‘put Nigel
Farage back in his box’, as Boris put it. And
this was done because, quite rightly, Johnson
saw Farage and his variegated minions as a
mortal threat to the Conservative party, the
evidence for which came in the European
elections in May and, with gradually dimin-
ishing force, every opinion poll since then.
Boris has been successful in out- Brexiting
the Brexit party so far, but it has come at an

enormous cost. He has managed, remarka-
bly, to unite the rag, tag and bobtail Remain-
er majority in the House of Commons,
and alienated even mildly demurring MPs
from his own party, including perhaps some
in his cabinet. The maths is more against
him now than was ever the case. The con-
sequence may well be that we don’t leave
on 31 October (if at all).
Further, if Boris is calculating that he will
have demonstrated to the electorate that he
did everything possible to achieve either a
deal or a no-deal Brexit, and that as a con-
sequence the Brexit party will fold and its
distraught voters return to the Conserva-

tive party, he is wrong again, I fear. Without
the Brexit party hanging over him, Johnson
might have been able to shove through a
deal which could command a parliamentary
majority and gain some sort of accordance
in Brussels: a codicil to the backstop, for
example. But there is no chance of that now.
Would such a deal be a ‘proper’ Brexit?
My guess is that it would be about as close to
one as the maths in parliament would ever
allow. If — and it is an ‘if’ stretched so far
that it might ping back and hurt your finger
— May’s original deal was the closest to
Brexit we were ever going to get, then once
again it was the Brexiters, in the form of the
European Research Group, who primarily
stopped it from happening. With these para-
doxes comes the intimation of impossibility.
Everything that can be tried will always fail.
And often fail for good reason.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a conse-
quence of parliament not being representa-
tive of the people and — despite Mr Farage
— a general election will not change that,
unless we reverse an earlier referendum and
institute proportional representation. I can
see no other route for escape from the mass
of liberals and neo-liberals who preside over
us and who represent the views of, at most,
35 per cent of the population.
One more point. I still keep hearing the
charge from Remainers that because the
referendum result was a fairly narrow affair,
the Leave lobby should be open to compro-
mise. That we should be happy with an ame-
liorated Brexit, perhaps keeping us within
the customs union and so on. That very point
was made by the QC Jonathan Sumption in
his Reith lecture at the start of the summer.
OK, I understand the point. But answer
this. If Remain had won the referendum
by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, would you
Remainers now be arguing the same thing?
That a very large minority voted to leave
and so we should respect their wishes by
partially leaving the EU, by loosening our
bonds, maybe extricating ourselves from
freedom of movement and the European
Court of Justice?
Do you know, I have my doubts.

The argument continues online.


t is all beginning to feel like the closing
scenes of the 1980 spoof comedy film
Airplane! In particular the bit where, as
the stricken jet is coming in to land, some-
one in the control tower suggests putting on
the runway lights to help a little. ‘No,’ says
Captain Rex Kramer, ‘that’s just what they’ll
be expecting us to do.’ The most basic expla-
nation for the chaos in parliament is that the
political divide in the House of Commons
does not remotely match the political divide
in the country, on Brexit or indeed on most
issues, surely. But that shouldn’t stop us rev-
elling in the multifarious paradoxes which
have come as a consequence. (And don’t call
me Shirley.)
Take Magic Grandpa. Here is a man
who is deeply, viscerally and ideological-
ly opposed to the European Union doing
his level best to keep us in it. Mr Corbyn
has also been demanding a general elec-
tion — now! —when it is the very last thing
he wants. He is therefore in the position
of arguing with great vehemence for two
things, neither of which he remotely believes
in. This is a continuation of the paradox
that thrilled us so much during the time of
Theresa May’s tenure as prime minister. A
leader who wanted us to remain leading the
charge to get us out, opposed by a leader of
the opposition who wanted us out doing his
best, again, to keep us in.
Corbyn has been forced into his current
position by his parliamentary party, which is
overwhelmingly pro-Remain. The paradox
— again — is that Labour constituencies
are overwhelmingly in favour of leaving,
by about two to one. It is impossible, then,
given these anomalies, to expect consistency
or rationality from Magic Grandpa, even if
one were to allow that he had the capacity
for rationality in the first place.
Then there is the Brexit party. Know-
ing Nigel Farage, there is no doubt in my
mind that the sole aim of this recently con-
vened — and spectacularly successful —
entity is devoted solely to getting us out of
the European Union, fully and absolutely.
Of course, Farage has hubris, and perhaps
desires (and deserves) some political role
in the future. But leaving the EU has been
his sole aim for the past 20 years: nothing
more and nothing less. How ironic would it

‘We’ve got a month to find a solution
to the Irish border problem.’

Boris has managed, remarkably,
to unite the rag, tag and bobtail
Remainer majority in the Commons
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