Parliament is in deadlock over Brexit. So what can we expect in the coming days and weeks after the vote? These are the scenarios currently being war-gamed.
May’s deal passes
A political shock: Theresa May squeaks over the line after convincing Brexiteers that it was her deal or no Brexit — and Remainers that it was her deal or a no-deal Brexit. The DUP then rains on May’s parade. Seething over the backstop, it declares that the confidence and supply agreement is over for good.
Unless Theresa May delays the vote, 11 December 2018 might be about to become one of the most important in recent British history; more important even than 23 June 2016. If MPs vote down Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, as nearly all ministers expect them to, they will set Britain on course for either the softest possible Brexit or a second referendum. In the process, they may well split the Tory party.
Over the past 20 years, the old British trait of self-deprecation has been killed off. And in its place, boasting is booming.
Last week, I was told by an 80-year-old Scottish businessman what a successful shipping tycoon he is, how wonderful his poems are, and why young women find him so attractive. Over a three-hour dinner, he never drew breath, never asked a question and only ever talked about his brilliant self.
I met a friend for lunch in Paris last Sunday. He and his wife had come up from the countryside for a weekend’s shopping. As we sat down, their nerves were still frayed from the previous day. It was, they told me, the most terrifying few hours of their lives. Trapped between the rioters and the police, they retreated to their hotel, where staff instructed them to stay in their room. The mob soon arrived and against a background noise of helicopters, police sirens, breaking glass and detonations, they tried unsuccessfully to force their way inside the hotel while singing an ode to the Révolution.
Emmanuel Macron is supposed to be the cleverest man in France but he has painted himself so completely into a corner that there’s no way out. Whether the gilets jaunes insurrection achieves its objectives or not, it has become his nemesis.
As the yellow wave roils France, Macron is a diminished figure after a crunching fall to earth. Bastion of anti-populism, he has united 70 per cent of France against him.
Sadiq Khan is an Islamophobe. Not just any old Islamophobe, and not just in the woollier parts of the web. According to a group part-funded by the EU called the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), the mayor of London, a practising Muslim, is one of the four ‘politicians and figures of note in the UK who [have] flagrantly displayed the most Islamophobia’ in 2018.
Barack Obama is an Islamophobe.
The world knew him as ‘Bush 41’. I knew him by a different name -during the time I worked for him as his speechwriter when he was vice president.
In those days, the staff called him ‘the Vishnu’. (Bear with me.) It was his own devising. He’d been to India on a state visit, where they’d presented him, amid much pomp and ceremony and clanging of brass, with a statue of the four-armed Vedic deity.
Its plaque described the Vishnu’s numerous godly qualities, among them: omniscience, omnipotence, and his title ‘Preserver of the Universe’.
‘But what must it be like for the fish?’ We’re talking about cormorants, Neil MacGregor and I, and the spectacular way they dive for food, when he pauses to consider the situation from the perspective of a fish.
‘I mean just think, there you are swimming along with lots of chums and then suddenly there’s this great whoosh and the chum next to you has just disappeared! He’s vanished! And of course you can’t see the cause of it.
St Martin’s really did once stand in the fields, just as nearby Haymarket was a market selling hay. But the church has moved with the times. In 1924 it hosted the first ever religious service to be broadcast live. You might have expected Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s to get the nod, but neither wanted it — many in the religious establishment thought it would be wrong to transmit divine worship over the airwaves, as people might listen in pubs.