It was a semi-victory. A partial triumph. A success with many strings attached. Yesterday the House finally approved a Brexit deal but prevented itself from passing it into law. Today Boris took half a lap of honour at PMQs. He was keen to trumpet his achievement.
‘It’s remarkable that so many Members were able to come together and approve the Second Reading.’
‘Alas,' he went on, ‘the House willed the end but not the means’.
Jeremy Corbyn quoted a statement made by Boris a year ago that customs checks might ‘damage the fabric of the Union.’
Boris called Corbyn a terrorist-hugging hypocrite.
‘It’s a bit rich to hear from him about his sentimental attachment to the fabric of the union… when he has spent most of his political lifetime supporting the IRA.’
Ken Clarke made a helpful intervention about Boris’s Halloween deadline. Missing this would be ‘a personal disappointment’, he purred, (rather than a career terminating U-turn). ‘The date,’ he went on in his chocolatey tones, ‘will soon fade into historic memory.’
Clarke has the reassuring air of Nanny serving crumpets before a roaring nursery fire. He suggested a resolution to the impasse. ‘A reasonable timetable motion so that the House can complete the task of finalising the details of the Withdrawal Bill’.
Boris replied with well-concealed guile. He rejected Clarke’s delaying tactics. ‘It’s very much in the best interests of this country to get Brexit done by 31st October.’ Note the careful inclusion of Cummings’s battle-cry in that comment. Boris stressed that Britain is now impotent and must stand by while Brussels decides our destiny.
‘We are waiting for their reaction to Parliament’s extension request.’
And he explicitly declared that this was ‘a request from Parliament, I stress it wasn’t my request.’
Translating into the vernacular: ‘Remainer MPs have betrayed Britain to hostile foreigners.’
The SNP’s Ian Blackford used his questions to launch a jingoistic attack on Boris.
First he demanded that the Scottish parliament be given the chance to approve (ie to reject) the withdrawal agreement.
‘Yes or no, Prime Minister?’
‘The Scottish parliament has no role in approving this deal,’ came Boris’s answer. Everyone knows that UK treaties are made in Westminster not Holyrood but Blackford pretended otherwise to boost his sense of injury. And he exploded at the Prime Minister as if Number 10 had just ordered the troops into Holyrood and sent an SAS unit to blow up Edinburgh castle.
‘The Scottish parliament is meaningless in the Prime Minister’s eyes,’ he shouted in his shrill nasal voice. ‘Britain as a union of equals has been torn asunder!’ He turned to the withdrawal agreement which his close friends, Messrs Barnier and Juncker, have been toiling over for so long. He called their work ‘a toxic Tory Brexit which risks our entire economic future.’ Not very polite. He needs to keep Brussels on side if he’s to re-join them after IndyRef2. Next he sorted through Boris’s Wikipedia entry and turned it into a charge-sheet of corruption and infamy. ‘Fired twice for lying, found unlawful by the courts, this Prime Minister has sold Scotland out time and time again.’ He finished with a screeched appeal for a general election.
‘That was an exciting development,’ said Boris. ‘Perhaps he could pass some of his courage down the line' – meaning those Labour MPs who refuse to grant an election.
David Amess cheered everyone up by asking for a dukedom, ‘because my wife would quite like to be a duchess.’
‘I’ll report back to the House on that,’ said the PM.