Another week, another parliamentary spectacle of almost mind-boggling irresponsibility.
To recap for readers who have better things to do than pore over the continuing Westminster car crash, Theresa May returned from Strasbourg on Monday with a tweak to her EU Withdrawal Agreement, which her own Attorney General promptly torpedoed with his opinion that it made no legal difference.
On Tuesday, MPs rejected her deal by a colossal 149-vote majority. On Wednesday they voted to reject a No Deal exit, with 13 ministers defying the Tory whips to abstain.
Then on Thursday, to compound the general sense of shambolic ungovernability, MPs rejected a measure to take control of the process from the Government, rejected a proposal for a second referendum and finally voted to extend the Brexit process beyond March 29, the date when we were supposed to be leaving the EU.
MPs (pictured above) voted down Theresa May’s plan after she returned from Strasbourg earlier this week
To give you some sense of the chaos on Thursday, the Brexit Secretary voted against the very plan for which he had just been arguing in the Commons. The chief whip, who had been in charge of getting MPs to back the Government, abstained.
And to cap it all, the risible second referendum campaign put out a statement urging MPs to vote against such a vote, claiming the time was ‘not right’.
Not even the cruellest satirist could make up this sort of stuff.
You might, I suppose, argue that this is how politics is supposed to work. Britain’s departure from the EU is a hugely difficult and complicated endeavour, so MPs should not necessarily be pilloried for taking their time and getting it right.
But surely no one could claim that our political class have covered themselves in glory. For in recent months it has become painfully clear that most MPs are completely out of their depth.
Prime Minister Theresa May (pictured above) has had her previous deals rejected
Many are simply too dim to understand the issues. They are not intellectually capable of grasping the complexity of the challenge, the importance of dealing honestly with our neighbours or the urgency of showing the public that they respect the result of the referendum.
There is, of course, plenty of blame to go around. Like many Mail readers, I have long since tired of seeing the likes of Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry draping themselves in the tattered EU flag and congratulating themselves on their so-called principles, while doing all in their power to frustrate the democratic verdict of the British people.
Yet at the same time I find it physically painful to listen to card-carrying fools such as the Tory hardliner Andrew Bridgen, who wrongly told a radio interviewer that all Englishmen were automatically entitled to Irish passports, or his fellow Brexiteer Mark Francois, who announced that he would not back Mrs May’s deal because ‘I was in the Army. I wasn’t trained to lose’.
Perhaps some readers will think I am being harsh, but this sort of behaviour would be beneath the dignity of a sixth-former standing for the school council, let alone a Member of Parliament.
Andrew Bridgen (pictured above) wrongly told a radio show that all Englishmen were entitled to Irish passports
It is true that, as the great conservative thinker Edmund Burke wrote in 1774, our MPs are not delegates, and are free to think and vote as they like.
Yet in a mature democracy, our political representatives ought to show an ounce of respect for the views of the men and women who sent them to Westminster. And it is hardly unreasonable to expect them to inform themselves about the issues, to speak and act with seriousness and responsibility, and to put the national interest ahead of their own narcissistic posturing.
Whatever you think of Brexit, it is the greatest political challenge we have faced since World War II.
Yet when the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, develops an elaborate sub-Les Dawson routine, gleefully likening his legal advice to a ‘codpiece’, and finds time to tweet the word ‘b******s’ to the journalist Jon Snow, you wonder whether he is taking his job seriously.
According to Dominic Sandbrook, Commons Speaker John Bercow (above) has used the whole situation to show off
There is more, of course.
What about all those Labour MPs merrily tweeting photos of themselves in the voting lobbies, in flagrant defiance of Westminster rules?
What about the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who treats the whole thing as an opportunity to show off?
What about Jeremy Corbyn, who rants and raves at the despatch box without showing the slightest scintilla of intelligence or integrity?
What about that clown Boris Johnson, who sees all this as a vehicle for his leadership ambitions, and blithely tells a radio interviewer that police investigations into historic child sex abuse were ‘spaffing money up the wall’ — using a street-slang word meaning ejaculation? And what about the aforementioned Mark Francois, jousting with novelist Will Self on TV about the size of his penis?
Boris Johnson (pictured above) told a radio show that police investigations into historic sex abuse were ‘spaffing money up the wall’
It almost went unnoticed that Labour MP Fiona Onasanya turned up to vote this week wearing an electronic tag, having just been released from prison after lying when she was caught speeding.
So much for the dignity of the Mother of Parliaments!
There are, of course, serious issues behind this shambles.First, I find it utterly baffling that the hardliners in the Tory European Research Group (ERG) would prefer to risk having no Brexit at all rather than vote for Mrs May’s deal.
Steve Baker (pictured above) is part of the hardliner ERG group
To cut a long story short, they have invented their own elaborate fantasy of the perfect deal (which the EU would never accept), and are determined to veto anything that does not tick all their little boxes.
This is the very definition of political irresponsibility.
Yes, Mrs May’s deal isn’t perfect. But what did they expect? Did they seriously think Britain would get everything its own way?
It is curious that the hardliners often talk of their great love for Margaret Thatcher, because she was nothing if not a pragmatist. When she negotiated her budget rebate from the EU in the early 1980s, for example, she had to settle for less than she initially wanted.
Did she throw her toys out of the pram? No. But she was a serious politician.
There is no doubt that some ERG hardliners have become addicted to the sound of their own voices. Would their chief shop steward, Steve Baker, be on television quite so often if Brexit were done and dusted? No wonder he and his friends keep voting against the deal. They don’t want to lose their place in the limelight.
The other great villains are the hardliners on the other side, the slavering ‘People’s Vote’ fanatics who never miss a chance, their bottom lips wobbling, to tell us how wonderfully principled they are.
Once again, it amazes me that these sanctimonious prigs cannot see how arrogant, graceless and irresponsible they appear. If they got their way, and a second referendum overturned the first, what do they think would happen?
How do they think people would react in the great swathes of the North and Midlands that voted Leave? Doesn’t it occur to them, in the smug fastnesses of their conceited little minds, that the reaction would be bedlam?
Don’t they care that this would create a lasting narrative of betrayal, with the common people cheated by an arrogant elite? Don’t they care that this would hand a gift-wrapped present to the far Right and far Left?
Doesn’t it occur to them to this would play directly into the hands of extremists like the lunatics who massacred 49 people in mosques in New Zealand yesterday, pouring fuel on the flames of their exaggerated resentments?
Theresa May (pictured above) has proposed the deal several times to MPs in parliament
The great Cambridge historian Robert Tombs, a Brexiteer, has argued that the current Parliament is the most unrepresentative and undemocratic since before the Great Reform Act of 1832, when the vast majority of British men and women could not even vote.
I don’t agree with him about everything, but he’s right about Parliament. As I have written in the Mail for years, the fact that our MPs have become a narrow, gilded political class, with little experience of the outside world and little sense of how ordinary people think and behave, has undermined our sense of democratic legitimacy.
Whatever you think about Brexit, Parliament is not reflecting the views of the British people. And if our MPs continue to reject a deal, leaving us trapped in the limbo of a permanent extension, millions will not forgive them.
I was struck by the tumultuous applause on Thursday night when, on BBC1’s Question Time, one member of the West London audience said MPs’ betrayal of the Leave vote means he will ‘never, ever’ again vote in an election. There must be many, many more who feel the same.
The grim irony of all this, though, is that it is all so unnecessary.
Even back in June 2016, when Britain voted to leave the EU, it was blindingly obvious that we would end up with some kind of pragmatic compromise, leaving the formal structures of the EU without torpedoing our economy.
That is precisely what Mrs May’s deal does. No such deal could be perfect, because it represents an accommodation between ideals and reality.
What also strikes me as bizarre about so many MPs’ opposition to Mrs May’s deal is the glaring fact that no other deal is available. The EU have made it crystal clear that they are not going to renegotiate.
We can rant and rave about that as much as we like — and believe me, I enjoy shaking my fist across the Channel as much as anybody — but what good would that do?
The most likely alternative to Mrs May’s deal, in fact, is that we extend the deadline before slouching disconsolately back into the EU, whether as part of a so-called Norway-plus deal or as formal members once again.
That would be a disaster, not just for our national pride but for our sense of democratic integrity.
The other irony is that if only we could stop quarrelling and get on with it, we might notice Britain is in far better shape than we often think. The underlying principles of our society are strong.
Our economy has performed much better since 2016 than many people expected, including me. Employment is at a record high. Austerity is coming to an end. The threat of Scottish secession has receded for the time being.
And despite all the clichés about a divided country, usually from hysterical Remainers, most ordinary people are not divided at all. Whatever their feelings about Brexit, most don’t want a long extension, don’t want a second referendum and just want our MPs to get on with it.
The problem is not the people. It is the political class, who insist on behaving as if they were showing off at the student union, not managing the affairs of a great country.
It doesn’t seem to occur to the hard-Brexiteers that, for all the bluster about taking back control and regaining sovereignty, they have shown themselves manifestly incapable of exerting control or wielding sovereignty.
Nor has it occurred to the Remainers that for all their pious cant about the sanctity of Parliament and the rights of MPs, they have been revealed as utterly unfit to sit on the benches once adorned by Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee.
Still, with Mrs May’s deal likely to return to the Commons next week, our MPs will have one last chance to redeem themselves. One last chance for the Tories to remember that Conservatism is the political expression of reasoned pragmatism, and for Labour to remember what millions of working-class men and women voted for back in 2016.
But if they continue to put posturing self-interest ahead of a national compromise, and to treat our Parliament as a circus, they can hardly blame the rest of us for concluding that Westminster politics is broken beyond repair.
Three hundred and sixty-six years ago, Oliver Cromwell marched into Parliament, seized the Mace and ordered his troops to clear the building.
‘It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice,’ roared Cromwell. ‘Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation… In the name of God, go!’
For the next five years, Cromwell effectively ran England himself. And he did it extremely well, dying peacefully in his bed with the nation prosperous, strong and respected across the world.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help wishing old Oliver was still around.