Well that was a waste of a perfectly good Saturday. Not just any Saturday, either. One of those gorgeous, cobwebs-in-the-dew autumn mornings where any sane human being was slouched on the sofa, mug of something freshly percolated on the go and two enticing rugger matches in the pipeline.
But no, down some of us trudged to Parliament instead, those most dreaded of words ‘rail-replacement bus service’ blaring over the Tannoy, to view what we hoped would be a vote on Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal.
Those creamy, know-it-all Remainers had other plans, of course. Sir Olive Oil Letwin, greasier than two scoops of Swarfega, had tabled an amendment to delay the vote even further. The chamber was rammed. Even Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove was forced to park himself on the floor in front of the Speaker. Dotty Lord Adonis looked on. Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter) played kissy-face with Sally Bercow (wife of John). Was that ex-Speaker Betty Boothroyd, 90, clasping a cane and giving a proprietorial chuckle over proceedings? It probably goes without saying but to get the Commons to sit on Saturday, the first time since the outbreak of the Falkands War, is no small operation.
Boris Johnson delivering a statement on his new Brexit deal in the Commons on Saturday
I heard not a word of complaint all day from Parliament’s ‘men in tights’, many of them ex-military types who carry out their duties with a courtesy and professionalism that should put their masters to shame.
Compare that to the huffy faces down in the chamber. Most MPs sat cross-armed, vapours of steam emanating from their earlobes, fulminating at this unwelcome intrusion. Last Thursday, I had listened with incredulity as Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) suggested that members of the House (salary: just shy of £80,000) be reimbursed for childcare costs for the inconvenience of working one Saturday at a moment of national crisis. What planet do these people inhabit?
Boris was on his toes at 9.30am, pitch and tone slow, respectful, methodical. Weird. Like Bob Dylan going electric for the first time – but in reverse. He reiterated that he would not demand any delay from Brussels.
Father of the House Ken Clarke pictured alongside former PM Theresa May. Mrs May ended up giving the star turn of the afternoon
Jeremy Corbyn was the usual: rant, rant, rant. Same with SNP leader Ian Blackford who did one of his customary ‘people of Scotland’ oratories. Man o’ the people Blackers of course, who made his fortune in the City of London. Blackford insisted the PM’s deal was worse than the one Theresa May put before the House.
Mrs May shot him one of those delicious bowie-knife stares she used to give him across the despatch box. Anyone familiar with their exchanges will know she treats him much like a commuter regards a piece of bubble gum on their shoe.
By the by, Mrs May ended up giving the star turn of the afternoon. One might have suspected she would become one of those sad, bitter types who end up haunting the chamber a la Ted Heath. Not a bit of it. Her remark that Parliament’s attempt to block Brexit was an ‘egregious con trick on the British people’ provoked approving gurgles from the Government benches.
Last Thursday, I had listened with incredulity as Labour MP for Rhondda Chris Bryant (pictured) suggested that members of the House (salary: just shy of £80,000) be reimbursed for childcare costs for the inconvenience of working one Saturday at a moment of national crisis
MPs including Jo Johnson (bottom left) listening to the Prime Minister debating the revised Brexit deal
Inevitably, we had the usual pro-Remain speeches from Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds Central); Yvette Cooper (Lab, Pontefract) and the customary yawnathon from Dominic Grieve (Ind, Beaconsfield).
Forgive me, but by the time they were over I relented – and went to the pub. Inside, a throng of weirdo anti-Brexit protesters had gathered after their People’s Vote march: a group of sandal-wearers who spent an age debating over the merits of different beers before placing their order.
We’re now promised a vote on Boris’s deal tomorrow. Please, please, people. Let us be finally be shot of this.
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