BREX FACTOR: Leavers keen to shift the blame
PUBLISHED: 16:30 15 November 2018
Steve Anglesey rounds up this week's top Brexiteers and explains why Theresa May's endgame is heading for the dustbin of history.
“To err is human, to forgive divine,” wrote Alexander Pope in 1709. “To err is human, to blame it on someone else is politics,” joked Democrat Hubert Humphrey after failing to stop Richard Nixon becoming president in 1968.
There has been plenty of erring and not much divinity so far in the snail’s-pace race towards Brexit.
And now, as Theresa May attempts to drag an unshod, half-lame donkey past the winning post and hail it as a Gold Cup winner, the blame game has begun in earnest.
“No-deal and potential chaos draws ever closer,” began a Sun editorial on Tuesday – an unusually gloomy outlook for a newspaper which, via columnists like Trevor Kavanagh, has regularly banged the drum for a no-deal exit under WTO rules. “The economic woe a no-deal could unleash, here and abroad, will belong to the EU and its Remoaner cheerleaders.”
The paper which a year ago declared “leaving the EU with no Brexit deal really would be no big deal” now concludes: “If job losses and bankruptcies result, it will not be the ‘failure of Brexit’ some idiotic Remainers crow about. It will be down to a discredited political elite helping Brussels destroy the process.”
It’s a view expanded on by ‘Brain of Brexit’ Daniel Hannan, who told an Australian podcast earlier this month that Remainers were wrecking any chance of a favourable settlement with Brussels. “There’s been a group of people in parliament, the media, civil servants and some big businesses who have simply not been prepared to accept the result; they’ve been prepared to work against it in collusion with overseas authorities,” he claimed.
“This isn’t a conspiracy theory of mine,” Hannan went on, outlining a conspiracy theory of his in which traitors were “writing newspaper articles on the continent urging (the EU) to offer the worst possible deal ... from the EU’s standpoint, why even engage in talks when you’ve got British Remainers doing your work for you?”
So in short, as their fantasies of a supercharged bespoke deal with all the benefits of being in the EU without paying for them evaporate in exactly the manner Remain predicted they would, the new Leave strategy is as follows:
Don’t blame it on the sunshine we promised after Brexit;
Don’t blame it on the moonlight we told you we’d dance in after Brexit;
Don’t blame it on good times we said would come after Brexit;
Blame it on the bogeymen who are to blame for wrecking Brexit.
No attempt to shift responsibility for this ongoing disaster would be complete without a word from Jacob Rees-Mogg, who granted the Sydney Morning Herald an audience, “speaking exclusively from the London offices of his hedge fund, Somerset Capital Management”. JRM’s hot take is that neither he, who has constantly pushed for a no-deal Brexit, nor his friends in the ERG who have signed letters calling for a leadership election to oust Theresa May, can be blamed if a no-deal Brexit or the ousting of Theresa May actually come to pass.
There are “two risks at the moment in British politics,” he said. “One is the risk of an accidental leadership election and the other is an accidental departure from the European Union without any agreement having been made. There’s no great campaign but it could just happen without anybody really planning... and that could happen at any point, it’s not under anybody’s specific control,” he said.
An accidental leadership election! An accidental no-deal departure! It all sounds like a rewrite of the moment in Withnail & I when a tearful and rain-sodden Richard E Grant pleads with the farmer. The new line could be: “Please help. We’ve toppled the prime minister and left the EU by mistake.”
Fittingly for someone who could be described as a Victorian sponge, Rees-Mogg likes to have his cake and eat it. Which is why he won’t join the exiled likes of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Priti Patel – who recently claimed Tory Remoaners had “sucked the intellectual lifeblood” out of Brexit – by pointing fingers at moderates in the Conservative ranks.
But truly, shouldn’t they all be looking closer to home? One journalist wrote last weekend: “As for the Brexiteer MPs who never tire of expressing their frustration with the handling of the negotiations, I ask them this: what is the alternative plan and who’s leading on it? It fills me with no confidence that things would have been any different had the Brexiteers been in charge.”
This opinion was expressed not by James Ball of The New European, Ian Dunt of Politics.co.uk or Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer. It was the work of Dia Chakravarty, who happens to be Brexit editor of that Brexiteers’ house journal, The Telegraph.
After all, when Hubert Humphrey looked for someone to scapegoat for his defeat in 1968, he settled on the Democratic vice-president who had constantly argued that it would be demoralising for American troops if Humphrey took a stand on Vietnam contrary to that of the outgoing president Lyndon Johnson.
Who did Humphrey blame? It was Hubert Humphrey.
May’s endgame heading for dustbin of history
“Negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame,” said Theresa May at the lord mayor’s banquet at London’s Guildhall on Monday night. But which kind of endgame does the prime minister have in mind?
Is it the chess one, which regularly ends with one of the players resigning? Or the one sung about by Taylor Swift on her 2017 single of the same name: “For all my flaws, paranoia and insecurities / I’ve made mistakes and made some bad choices, that’s hard to deny... I’ve passed days without fun, this endgame is the one”?
Or could it be the Endgame of Samuel Beckett’s one-act play, which premiered in 1957 and resonates deeply 61 years on? Lead character Hamm can’t leave as he is blind and paraplegic; his parents can’t leave because both lost their legs in a cycling accident and now live in dustbins. The only mobile character, Hamm’s servant Clov, spends the play threatening to leave but never actually does.
Perhaps we have all been underestimating May and rather than a series of calamitous and very avoidable humiliations, the last 28 months have actually been a clever Beckettian performance piece embracing the playwright’s key touchstones: repetition, despair and the futility of attempting to outrun time. For what have the Brexit negotiations been so far if not a daily reiteration of the final lines from Waiting for Godot:
Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
(they do not move)
Brexiteers of the Week
The 69-year-old BBC presenter called Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr “mad cat woman Karol Kodswallop” in a 3.15am tweet which he subsequently deleted without an apology.
It was an echo of insults popularised by Brexit backer Arron Banks, who regularly calls the writer ‘Codswallop’ on Twitter when not branding her a “crazy cat lady”, a “sad cat lady”, or accusing her of “peak cat lady stalking”. In his book Bad Boys of Brexit Banks tells how Neil “asked me to speak at an event for the Addison Club, his very elite private dining society... he’s emailed to say he thinks I’ll ‘find a fair few in our membership sympathetic to your case and even a few with chequebooks’”.
Cadwalladr has recently wontwo major journalism awards for her stories on Banks, who is now being investigated by the National Crime Agency over his mysterious donations to Leave.EU. Meanwhile Neil claims to have been asked to perform a Nicki Minaj song at the Royal Variety Performance.
Like many others, Dorries was moved by the death of Jeremy Heywood. But she hasn’t been quite so kind about other civil servants, calling their independence into question several times in the last few years.
In January she dismissed gloomy Brexit papers as “a dodgy dossier... written by civil servants supporting Remain.” In March she quoted Churchill: “After a time, civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.”
And in September she claimed: “I think there are ministers, advisors, civil servants who will be held to account when we finally do leave.”
And who was head of the civil service while Dorries was laying into it? None other than the dedicated and committed Jeremy Heywood.
Not surprisingly, the 71-year-old tycoon who claims to be “enormously optimistic” about the UK’s prospects outside the EU has some inventive ways of showing his patriotism.
Dyson, who in October decided to build his new electric car in Singapore rather than create 1,000 jobs and make a £2bn investment in Brexit Britain, has been revealed as a member of three tax-deferral schemes run by firms which have been in dispute with HM Revenue & Customs. These allow tax liabilities to be put off for 15 years.
Meanwhile Britain’s biggest farmer has expanded his portfolio with another £37m spent on land this year by his Beeswax Dyson Farming. Not only will the Brexiteer receive EU agricultural subsidies until we finally leave, but farmland is exempt from inheritance tax.
Could the vacuum cleaner disruptor really be taking the taxman for a sucker?