wise guys, etc

Boris Johnson turned up at PMQs, but how do you interrogate someone who’s not even pretending to tell the truth?
Tom Peck, Independent, Oct 23 2019

A novel experience, on Wednesday at noon, when the prime minister rose at the despatch box for what is known as Prime Minister’s Questions. Boris Johnson is over three months into the job but has only got round to doing it the once. The last time it happened, technically, was three weeks ago, at the precise moment he was giving his party conference speech, an unfortunate timetabling clash that was the direct consequence of his having tried and failed to shut down parliament. The purpose of these occasions, we are led to believe, is for the whole house and, in particular, the leader of the opposition, to scrutinise the government by asking the prime minister difficult questions. Traditionally, Johnson’s tactic in such situations, over many years in public life, has been to create what he calls a “blonde wall of noise,” to just overwhelm all would-be challengers with a tornado of bluster. That doesn’t work so well in the House of Commons as it does in television interviews, but he has a new tactic, which is equally effective, and that is just to lie.

It really works. How can anyone hope to land a blow on you when you’ve liberated yourself from even the most basic requirement to say anything that anyone might conceivably think to be true. There he stood, stating with complete clarity, on many occasions, that the government is still committed to “leaving the EU by Oct 31.” As he spoke, the Conservative Party was sending out a little tub-thumping email to all its members saying “Labour has delayed Brexit again.” He also spent the morning both in a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, where the two of them failed to agree on a new timetable for Brexit (debates), and on the phone to EU leaders, discussing the request for a delay to Brexit he had personally sent them, in a letter he had refused to sign, like an unimaginably petulant toddler. It was, in its way, Prime Minister’s Questions in the style of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. That movie loses much of its dramatic tension once death stops becoming an obstacle to life. How much edge is there to be found in a sword fight, for example, when the vanquished party just pops over the edge of the world and then comes back reborn? And so it is, for us, forced to listen to or otherwise analyse the words of Boris Johnson, when none of them can have any meaning at all, because he knows and we know and absolutely everybody knows that they slipped the surly bonds of truth so very long ago. That he’ll say absolutely anything, at all.

It is like watching a man delivering election slogans the day after the election is lost. At time of writing, he is “still committed to leaving the EU on Oct 31” even though he knows it can’t be done. And now that that can’t be done, even though he’s still claiming he’s going to do it, his and his No 10 pals’ next ruse is to claim he will be “calling a general election before Christmas.” He’s already tried and failed to call one of those. There’s absolutely no reason at all to imagine anything has changed that means he can just call one now. He can’t. It’s all just noise and shouting. Say whatever you like in the hope that someone’s listening. Doesn’t matter that none of it’s true because the person who hears it probably won’t know that. There will be a general election, at some point, and we know that this will be the strategy. Dominic Cummings has done it before and he’ll do it again. Already we have seen the Conservatives’ poster, pumped out on Facebook on Tuesday night and already shared 17,000 times. It says:

Boris’s Brexit deal has passed parliament, but Labour have now voted to delay it.

It is painful to have to point out that if it had passed parliament, it would already be law. It hasn’t even come close to passing parliament. They know it but they also know the people they want to lie to, don’t. It’s clear right now in late 2019 that big electoral events in big democratic countries happen at the mercy of social media, which nobody has yet worked out how to regulate or control. No one quite knows when the general election is happening, but there is one thing we do know for certain. It will be yet another thermonuclear explosion of fear, lies and loathing. It is the Cummings way. The rest of us just have to live with the consequences.

‘Disgraceful’: Unionists slam minister over Irish Sea checks
Lisa O’Carroll, Peter Walker, Graun, Oct 23 2019

Julian Smith during his appearance before the Northern Ireland affairs select committee.

Unionist MPs have branded the government’s approach to Northern Ireland in the Brexit talks “despicable” and a “betrayal.” In his first appearance before the Northern Ireland affairs select committee, Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland secretary, was questioned about plans to require businesses selling or transiting goods from the region to Britain to complete special paperwork in order to trade post-Brexit. Smith said the checks would be minimal and the focus should be on the “great opportunities” awaiting Northern Ireland. He said the government would work with businesses to ensure the withdrawal agreement bill would as far as possible allow unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and Britain. But Ian Paisley Jr, the DUP MP for North Antrim, said it was disgraceful to expect any business to complete paperwork for goods being sold in “our country, not a foreign country.” In a tense exchange, he asked Smith where he lived. When Smith told him he lived in North Yorkshire and London, Paisley said:

If you had to move goods from North Yorkshire to London and have to fill in a form, you’d feel pretty aggrieved about that. We are in the same country. It is disgraceful.

After Boris Johnson told MPs during prime minister’s questions that there would be no checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, his spokesman sought to explain that the customs regime would instead be a “minimal administrative process.” He said:

The deal explicitly allows the UK to ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the UK. We don’t intend to carry out checks on these movements of goods. There will be a minimal administrative process provided electronically.

However, Johnson’s spokesman declined to say what might happen if companies simply declined to fill in the forms given there was no process to check if they had been completed, repeating merely:

There will be a minimal administrative process.

The NI committee also heard that £15m of taxpayers’ money has been spent on Stormont politicians, including members of the legislative assembly (MLAs), since it collapsed in Jan 2017. MLAs are being paid almost £36k a year for not sitting, while the speaker of the chamber is being paid £56k/yr having sat for one day in almost three years. Sylvia Hermon, an independent unionist MP, said this was “absolutely outrageous,” and Smith admitted it was “unacceptable” but stopped short of vowing to cut the salaries. He argued it was best to focus on getting Stormont restored because the alternative, direct rule from Westminster, was worse. The DUP had previously accepted that regulatory checks would be needed on goods moving from Britain to NI as a concession designed to obviate the need for checks on the Irish border. The plans for checks on goods going the other way emerged on Monday. Smith tried to offer reassurances but was laughed at when he said the latest chapter in Brexit was a “healing process.” Hermon asked:

This is a healing process? I think you should speak to some of the unionist parties if you think this is a healing process since the deal was brought home last Thursday! There has been considerable disquiet, anger, to put it mildly, amongst the unionist community.

The DUP’s Jim Shannon said it was an “absolutely despicable deal” and the union flag in Northern Ireland was hanging “a wee bit tattered at the moment.” The government’s Brexit impact assessment paper that accompanied the publication of the withdrawal agreement bill on Monday night shows that east-west checks would affect 3,517 businesses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.