March 08, 2019
Exiting the EU is a job for the country’s brightest minds. They weren’t available, so we’ve got Karen, Gavin and Geoffrey
Worried about Brexit? What, with these geniuses in charge? | Marina Hyde
In the depths of Building 87 at Microsoft’s Washington state headquarters, there’s a laboratory rated the quietest place on the planet. This anechoic chamber is so silent that someone standing in it can hear not just their heart beating, but the blood flowing in their veins. People can’t handle the experience for more than minutes. Nasa has sent astronauts to a similar lab in Minnesota, to prepare them for the terrifying silence of space. Both of these facilities, however, are currently less silent than Michael Gove. Remember him? By way of a refresher course, Michael was one of the architects of Brexit. Or perhaps that’s the wrong word, given the mess. Describing someone as an architect of Brexit is like describing the Luftwaffe as an architect of London. Let’s say Michael was one of the frontmen of the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union, and is currently secretary of state for the environment.
But you may recall him for his decision, in the immediate wake of the referendum, to knife leadership hopeful Boris Johnson. This treachery backfired spectacularly, with Michael’s behaviour widely regarded as too distasteful even for the Conservative party. Mindful that his personal brand was marginally more toxic than the Exxon Valdez, then, Michael has spent the past two and a half years cleaning up the fallout, via apologetic interviews, launching about six “big idea” consultations a week, and being photographed going into cabinet carrying a refillable coffee cup. The latter ruse was probably my favourite; I only wish Brutus had waved something similar round the Capitol in late March 44BC. It would have saved a lot of unpleasantness.
Anyway, imagine my confusion that we should be hearing precisely nothing from Michael now, as the Brexit all-systems clusterfuck cranks up another gear. On the eve of a week that will shape our national destiny, and with even the prime minister using the word “crisis”, he is nowhere to be seen. Will people remember this deafening silence when he sweeps in later for another crack at the leadership? You’d have to hope so.
As for those other cabinet ministers filling his vacuum, it has been a truly mindboggling week for Dr Xavier’s School For Giftless Hucksters. If you’re a cabinet minister but didn’t call someone “coloured”, or state in parliament that Islamophobia against British Muslims is a matter for the Foreign Office, then it’s possible you didn’t make the cut of this column. By way of consolation, it was an extremely strong field. There’s every chance that doing a lesser racism or forcing France to suspend diplomatic relations or something will be enough next week.
For now, quote of the week can only be from Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley, who informed the Commons, at some length, that deaths caused by British soldiers in Northern Ireland could not be crimes because they were caused by British soldiers. Oh my God, Karen! YOU HAD ONE JOB. Again. Or as the secretary of state had it later: “I want to be clear – I do not believe what I said, that is not my view.”
Meanwhile, desperately trying to define himself against colleagues such as this is cub defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who announced that the UK armed forces “stand ready” to respond to the knife crime crisis. Then again, you may have noticed there is really nothing “his” military isn’t raring to respond to. Is your cat stuck up a tree? Gavin’ll deploy a Nimrod. Trouble returning your Asos order? How does war with China sound? Appalled that your child’s school is begging you for money for essential supplies? Gavin’s going to have a Type 45 destroyer so far up your grill you’ll be spitting 3,000 shells a minute.
For all this bravado, alas, Gavin Williamson still comes off as a rolling series of bets by his spads. We know the government literally plays these games, because last Sunday it emerged that Theresa May’s PPS was bet tea at the Ritz, by a Tory MP, that she couldn’t get the PM to say “simples” in parliament. You may have seen that mission was accomplished. And so, I can only speculate, with Gavin. “Bet you can’t make him say ‘lethality’.” “Bet you can’t make him issue a statement containing the words ‘I no longer sell fireplaces.’” “Bet you can’t make him tell Russia to go away and shut up.” Pretty soon, our entire economy will be driven by bets on stupid shit Gavin Williamson can be made to say, in a sector it is hoped will replace the automotive industry – all exactly as predicted in Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom.
That said, Gavin does need to stay in the show now that another self-styled rising star Johnny Mercer has entered the fray. Ever since Johnny inquired of his Twitter followers, “Did you insinuate my wife was a prostitute on the Plymouth Herald comments section?”, it has been clear that the only question to which he is the answer is, “What would happen if Alan Partridge became an MP?” He has yet to accept this, amusingly, and on Thursday leaked to the Sun an advance look at his speech telling Theresa May to make way for the next generation of Tories. As the paper had it: “Mercer, 37, will say: ‘The sands are shifting under our feet. It’s like a runaway horse.’” I think I vaguely heard somewhere that Johnny Mercer used to be in the army, so can he technically not be held liable for killing two metaphors? I’d be grateful if Karen Bradley could get in touch to clarify. Either way, there’s a part of all of us that’s salivating at the future prospect of Mercer versus Williamson on some terrain or other. The writers have set up the season two beef between these characters so perfectly.
All of which brings us to attorney general Geoffrey Cox, a bizarrely overrated off-brand Rumpole, whose speeches are peppered with ludicrous barristerisms such as “sol-yoo-tion”. No 15-year-old, ever, has pronounced it “sol-yoo-tion”, so this is just one of those affectations they teach you at legal eagle school, along with thinly disguised greed and functional alcoholism. To be clear, and for legal purposes: the latter is a mild, non-specific joke about ALL attendees at a notional and fictional “legal eagle school”, which is not a real thing.
Anyway, Geoffrey Cox has been in Brussels this week, where his preposterous gambit was apparently to suggest that the backstop – which his own government negotiated about 10 minutes ago – could breach the European convention on human rights for the people of Northern Ireland. What can you even say? A senior EU source remarked tartly: “He said a lot of surprising things this week.” The rest of us might simply note that we are 21 days out from the date of scheduled EU departure, with or without a deal, and our apparent best idea is to just claim any old random bollocks. The backstop could breach the ECHR! No? OK, then: it contravenes the London Submarine Protocol of 1936. You don’t like that one? Fine, it’s against the laws of gin rummy. The second law of thermodynamics? How about Murphy’s law? LA Law? Denis Law?
Plenty more where that came from, Fritz – and plenty of time for it all, too.
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