Tuesday 25 June 2019

Colette Browne: 'May is now kowtowing to deluded zealots for whom a crash-out catastrophe is something to be welcomed'

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, as she faced a vote on her Brexit 'plan B'. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, as she faced a vote on her Brexit 'plan B'. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

How best to explain the madness that has gripped the House of Commons in recent weeks? Maybe we should look to the Middle Ages and the mysterious case of the meowing nuns for some answers.

In the 14th century, in a convent in northern France, a nun began meowing like a cat. Soon, every other nun in the convent began meowing. Eventually, the nuns were all loudly meowing in concert throughout the day - greatly irritating those who lived outside the convent walls.

It was only when soldiers arrived at the convent door, and threatened the nuns with physical violence, that this early recorded example of mass hysteria abruptly ended.

Fast forward 700 years and, in the UK, people like arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage suddenly began meowing. Before long, the right wing of the Tory party dropped to all-fours and started howling. Now, this sickness has infected almost the entirety of the British polity, who are content to spend their time squawking at each other while the rest of the world looks on in astonished horror.

It remains to be seen whether a threat of brute violence - in the form of a catastrophic 'no deal' - can quell the unintelligible caterwauling emanating from the House of Commons.

Early signs are the psychosis that has taken hold, both in parliament and across the country, is too firmly entrenched to be exorcised so easily.

The BBC, for instance, interviewed an elderly man on Monday who appeared to welcome the prospect of food shortages as a form of character-building exercise.

"It's pure scaremongering," he meowed, when asked about warnings from major retailers about threats to food supplies from a no-deal scenario, before immediately deciding doom-mongering wasn't too bad.

"It would do the country good to go without for a little while, make them appreciate what they had," he added, appearing to believe any food shortages, if they happened, would only affect unidentified others and not himself.

Sticking it to the Europeans by eagerly submitting to a future of deprivation and hardship doesn't seem like a successful result to those of us not suffering from Brexit delirium, but hysteria isn't rational.

Therein lies the problem. How can EU negotiators engage with British politicians who don't appear to believe in an objective reality?

Less than two months ago, Theresa May told the House of Commons "there is no deal without a backstop and without a backstop there is no deal".

She was adamant on this point because it is a statement of the obvious. Given the red lines imposed by the UK throughout the negotiations - to leave the customs union and the single market - coupled with its commitment to retain an open Border on this island and uphold the Good Friday Agreement, a backstop is an essential component of any withdrawal agreement. It is non-negotiable.

Despite this, yesterday Mrs May marched into the same chamber and encouraged MPs to jettison the backstop - a provision she herself had been instrumental in shaping - in favour of some nebulous unarticulated alternative.

With just 58 days to go until the UK crashes out of the EU, with the British parliament in disarray and chaos, Mrs May is still selling the notion that fairy dust can be sprinkled on the Brexit negotiations to deliver hardliners their preferred option.

It is clear now Mrs May's priority has shifted from negotiating a credible withdrawal agreement to cobbling together a Faustian pact to prevent the Conservative Party from splitting.

Instead of trying to find a consensus on a way forward among members of parliament, she has kowtowed to the zealots and extremists, in her own party and the DUP, and continues to entertain their delusions.

Urging MPs to vote for a rebel motion that fatally undermines the agreement she herself endorsed as the only option two weeks ago, Mrs May said a resounding majority was required "to send an emphatic message" to the EU about what parliament wants.

Well, every morning when I get up I send an emphatic message to the universe that I would like to win the lottery but inexplicably it has yet to happen. Sending emphatic messages is all well and good, but if they have almost no chance of actually happening, they are not very useful.

This is particularly true when your emphatic message, if it falls on deaf ears, will result in the economic impoverishment of an entire country.

At the start of this interminable process, those who forecast job losses, increased poverty and disruptions to food and medical supplies at the end of it were accused of engaging in 'Project Fear'. Brexit, they were told, would lead a populace, unshackled from the EU, to "sunlit uplands" and there would be "no downside, only a considerable upside".

Now that Project Fear has become manifest reality, its disastrous impact has been recast by those who have drunk the Brexit Kool-Aid as some kind of patriotic call to duty - 'Brexit may be bad, but the war was worse and we survived that'.

Those leading the charge over the cliff have also reimagined themselves as noble soldiers on a crusade to save Britain from a foe as evil as the Nazis.

When Airbus CEO Tom Enders last week derided the British government's handling of Brexit negotiations as "a disgrace" and warned the company, which directly employs 14,000 people, could pull out of Britain, an enraged Tory MP Mark Francois accused him of "Teutonic arrogance".

"My father was a D-Day veteran. He never submitted to bullying by any German and neither will his son," vowed Mr Francois, who proceeded to rip up a copy of Mr Enders's comments live on TV.

How is anyone supposed to react to these kinds of monumentally stupid theatrics?

A self-aggrandising Mr Francois may believe he is metaphorically going into battle, but to seriously compare his jingoistic rhetoric to the actions of World War II patriots is grotesquely offensive - not to mention hugely embarrassing.

If politics were in any way normal, those who hold views as obnoxious as the delusional Mr Francois would be shunned. Yet, it is people like Mr Francois, and his chums in the ERG, Mrs May has now aligned herself with.

In doing so, she is torching any credibility she once had in the EU and, unless she changes course, any chance of a deal being agreed before the UK crashes out - and, it is unlikely Blitz spirit will prevail for long when the effects of this particular war will have been entirely self-inflicted.

Irish Independent

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