uneven humorous writing, but full of hilarious real events

Stephen Barclay, a pointless secretary for a pointless Brexit
John Crace, Groon, Oct 16 2019

2867Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

If Stephen Barclay didn’t exist, would anyone notice his absence? He is Westminster’s very own invisible man. Someone so forgettable that not even his own reflection recognises him. A man who slips in and out of rooms without leaving a trace. No one can even be quite sure if he has human form or if he is just some shape-shifting ectoplasm. Everything about him has been designed with forgettability in mind. His voice is liquid valium. Calming to the point of comatose, each word more meaningless than the one before. By the end of a sentence you are far worse informed than if he had said nothing. His ideal job would be a doctor specialising in telling patients that their cancer was now terminal. Because everyone would have either nodded off or died before they had managed to absorb the news. All of which has made him a more than satisfactory Brexit secretary. The man for no seasons, who has understood his role is entirely ceremonial and whose functions merely extend to opening and closing ring-binders. Someone who can’t give away a negotiating position even by accident, simply because everyone knows he is never present at meetings where such decisions are taken. Any appearance by Barclay before the Brexit select committee is therefore inherently pointless. A matter of protocol to be observed. Today’s was more futile than usual because it was blindingly obvious to the entire world that even those who were meant to know what was going on were completely clueless. Brexit had come down to a game of Russian roulette with Boris Johnson, the DUP and the ERG taking it in turns to hold a gun to the country’s head.

At the start, committee chair Hilary Benn spoke largely to himself. Would the Commons be sitting on Saturday? Would there be a full legal text of any new withdrawal agreement and political declaration? If there was no agreement by end of Saturday would the prime minister send the letter requesting an extension? Barclay merely smiled and shrugged. “Words, mumble, words, mumble, words,” he said, his synapses stubbornly refusing to connect with one another. Benn then tried pressing the Brexit secretary on what were the actual existing rules to which Northern Ireland would revert if the DUP denied consent. Barclay looked amazed. The committee shouldn’t worry its pretty little head about something that might happen next year or four years after that. Rather it should be concentrating on getting through the day. The event horizon was that near. After 20 minutes, Tory Eurosceptics Craig McKinlay and Andrea Jenkyns interrupted proceedings to say they had had enough of Benn being beastly to Barclay by asking him awkward questions. Richard Graham, bristling with passive aggression, chipped in by suggesting Benn should be appearing before the committee to explain his lack of patriotism in trying to prevent the country becoming even more worse off with a no-deal Brexit. “Splendid,” said Benn evenly. Maybe Jenkyns would like to have her go? I love Boris, me, she said. Boris is amazing. The Best. Whatever deal he brings back will be good enough for me. Even Barclay appeared slightly taken aback by her fan-girl enthusiasm, though he was relieved she didn’t actually have any questions for him. She just wanted to vent. McKinlay merely wanted to know if the lights he had been looking at online had been made in the EU and, if so, whether that would subject him to permanent vassalage.

Barclay eased himself through the rest of the session with minimum fuss. Labour MPs shouldn’t pay too much attention to the fact that the new deal might have replaced “regulatory alignment” with “regulatory divergence.” That was just a typo that no one had got round to Tippexing out. The very idea that the government was in a race to the bottom was absurd. And no, he couldn’t confirm the status of current trade deals. He’d been too busy concentrating on knowing nothing. But luckily, Liz Truss had everything in hand. A wave of panic went through the room. “Why have the DUP and the ERG been invited into discussions and Scotland and Wales ignored?” SNP MP Joanna Cherry demanded. Whatever. Barclay yawned. If she was feeling left out he’d arrange for someone even more junior and dimmer than him to give her a ring in a couple of weeks or so. The only real confrontation came from the DUP’s Sammy Wilson who couldn’t understand why his party’s right to veto any deal with Ireland had not been set in stone. As instructed by the PM, Barclay passed him a note with “Will another £5b shut you up” written in green ink. He looked amazed when Wilson appeared to ignore him and continued to insist that the Belfast agreement be upheld. Barclay left the committee as he had arrived. Without making an impression on anyone. Now he was free to return to his ignorance. And for once he was in step with the rest of the cabinet. No one knew anything.

Brexit is in the hands of the idiots, and they’ve dropped it
Tom Peck, Independent, Oct 17 2019

At the end of another long day that has changed absolutely nothing, all that can be known for certain is the following. Some people walked through some doors. Some people banged on some walls. Most of those people are idiots. The rest are psychopaths. These are the only uncontested facts. Apart from the fact there hasn’t been a Brexit deal. Everyone knows that. But did anyone expect any different? Walking through doors and banging on walls used to be rarefied things in Westminster. They are the days when Tory prime ministers go and address private meetings of their backbench MPs, and try to convince them everything’s going to be fine. The seated ones bang at their desks. The standing ones bang on the walls. On the other side of the wall, dozens of journalists interpret the tone and timbre of the banging for meaning, like Darkness at Noon in lanyards. Then they argue with each other on the internet about who knows what about what’s been said inside.

The only thing that can be known for certain is who walked in and out of these rooms, in pursuit of a Brexit deal that still hasn’t been done. The stakes being played for in these rooms are high, all of our little lives and livelihoods, yet the people playing with them could scarcely be lower. The country’s economic future, waiting around for sign-off by Mark Francois. He bobbed and weaved his way up to the No 10 door in the mid afternoon as if 10 minutes late for Pie and Pint night in Wickford Wetherspoon. There is no Wickford Wetherspoon currently, but Francois is personally lobbying for one. What was said behind that door we cannot know. We can only know that the country cannot move forward without Mark Francois’s say-so. A man whom three years ago his own next door neighbour might not have ever heard of, now rendered a household name by Brexit, or to give it its working subtitle: The Insatiable Rise of The Idiot. In and out with him went chief self-appointed ‘Spartan’ Steve Baker, wearing an open-necked shirt. It’s hard to know whether this was a deliberate choice, to treat viewers of the news channels to a flash of his small crucifix, as a reminder of a well-worn story around Westminster. More than one person claims to have seen him, on more than one occasion, undo his top button, press said crucifix to his lips and declare that Brexit “is for Him! It’s for Him!” So yes, psychopaths and idiots. And on that subject, next in and out were the ladies and gentlemen of the DUP. Their Brexit spokesperson, Sammy Wilson, didn’t think the deal on offer was good enough for the unionists of Northern Ireland. He said:

The UK and the EU are about to find out what the Good Friday Agreement means.

At what point Mr Wilson himself found out what the Good Friday Agreement means is not immediately clear, as by the time of that historic day in 1998, the DUP had already walked out, having refused to sign up to it. Northern Irish politics is extravagantly complex, but what is a simple fact is that the DUP want a hard Brexit but no hard border. It is an unsolvable problem for somebody else to solve, their role being to sweep in periodically and say “no” to the latest extravagantly complex attempt to meet their impossible demands. The stages of evolution to find their unicorn first involved Theresa May placing a traffic cone on a donkey. Now it’s been painted white, sprayed in glitter and Iain Duncan Smith is said to be exploring “technological solutions” on how to bestow it with the gift of flight but it still won’t do. In the mid afternoon, Boris Johnson went in to a meeting of backbench MPs. He told them:

We are not quite at the Summit. We are at the Hillary Step. The Summit is still shrouded in mist.

It is hard to know which is the more unfortunate aspect of this particular metaphor. Is it that “Mount Everest, the mountain every man wants to climb” is how he once referred to his technology instructor Jennifer Arcuri? Is it that the final ascent from Everest’s famous Hillary Step to the summit is strewn with frozen corpses that are too dangerous to recover? Or perhaps it’s that the Hillary Step, at which Boris Johnson now claims to be standing, was destroyed in an earthquake four years ago? It’s none of these things, really. It’s the sheer ingenuity of likening Brexit to an ascent of Mount Everest. On the unlikely chance we do indeed make it to the top, Cummings, Gove, Johnson and Co will pause and breathe in the wonder of their stunning achievement. And then it will be a matter of seconds before it is stunningly obvious that it’s absolutely terrifying up here and if we don’t get down right away we’re all going to die.

At time of writing, customs is the sticking point. How do you keep the Irish border completely open, and still somehow prevent people who want to dodge paying VAT (ie the entire population) from driving goods across it? The short answer remains the same as the long one. It can’t be done. If it could be done, Norway and Sweden would have done it years ago. It can’t be done. There remain various types of Brexit. Some will persuade Labour rebels, like the return of the so-called “Level Playing Field” on workers rights and protections, but they appal the ERG in equal measure. The whole thing is Johnson running up and down over the fulcrum between Brussels and Westminster, and side to side between various commons factions, trying to balance a T-shaped seesaw that simply cannot be held steady. No one knows what is coming in the coming days. No one is even sure if the House of Commons special Saturday sitting will even happen. At one point, on Wednesday morning, it looked like the very same people who took the government to the Supreme Court for shutting down parliament were themselves planning to have it shut down on Saturday, in case it voted for something they didn’t like. Oh well. Who even cares anymore? It’s all auto-ironic now. All the rest of us can do is hang about, watching the doors shut, listening to the walls bang, waiting for the idiots finally to give their stamp of idiotic approval to the single stupidest thing any once sensible country has ever done.

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