Just saying no plays to the Brexit ultras - Brian Wilson

None of the angry scenes in the Commons this week needed to happen. Picture: Getty
None of the angry scenes in the Commons this week needed to happen. Picture: Getty
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I bow to no man or woman in my distaste for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson or the odious clique assembled around him.

“Unfitness for office” does not begin to cover it. His sneer that the best way to celebrate murdered Jo Cox’s memory would be to vote for something she opposed should shame not only Johnson but every Tory MP who guffawed approval.

His ambition to orchestrate the most poisonous, divisive General Election in British political history as an escape hatch for himself should be denied indefinitely. Let him stew until there is a far greater likelihood he would be defeated.

Having got all that out the way, it should equally be recognised that excoriation of Johnson – the easy bit – does not equate to absolution for his opponents who have contributed to the circumstances which permit the current impasse to exist.

None of this week’s events need have happened. If a handful more Opposition MPs had voted for the UK-EU agreement, instead of marching into the same lobby as far-right Tories, then Johnson could still be spending his afternoons in Shoreditch or wherever without the disturbance of Red Boxes.

Lady Hale’s spider brooch could have stayed in its box. Nobody would be talking about riots in the streets. Critically, “no deal” would long since be off the table, tens of thousand of jobs would be secure and the nitty-gritty of continuing negotiation would be proceeding.

All that was required was a modicum of humility and political foresight from those who would prefer to remain within the EU but are also capable of acknowledging that the outcome of the 2016 referendum cannot simply be ignored until it is overturned.

Instead, they voted three times against a deal which ticked the Brexit box but the vast majority throughout the UK could have lived with. Instead of recognising the Irish backstop as both necessary and desirable, they weaponised it as the critical argument against any deal.

In doing so, they played straight into the hands of those they claimed to oppose most fervently – the Brexit “ultras”. They guaranteed the replacement of Mrs May by a Tory leader far more reckless. They gambled the house on stopping Brexit completely rather than making the best of what the referendum had decreed.

Even now, there is no unanimity among those who shelter behind the righteous rhetoric of opposing “no deal”. Most of the Tories who have been thrown out still say they accept the result of the referendum but cannot live with Johnson’s belligerence or the threat of “no deal” – a perfectly honourable stance.

However, the Liberal Democrats now say “vote for us and there will simply be no Brexit, based on any deal”. That shows absolutely no respect for those who voted to leave the EU or indeed the democratic principle.

The SNP, who would revel in “no deal” 
as the guarantor of maximum chaos, 
have given no indication of what might satisfy them. Labour tries to hedge its bets, relatively united only by opposing “no deal”.

Yet what are the options beyond that? Does any responsible politician want a General Election based on the polarisation Johnson is whipping up – and which there is a very strong chance he would win? Is there any evidence that a second referendum would provide a different result or a less divisive one, with bitterness dragging on for years?

Johnson is a nasty, ruthless piece of work motivated entirely by ambition and now survival. The Benn Act and the Supreme Court have put substantial obstacles in his way and hopefully will buy time for a resolution to be achieved. But what is that resolution to be?

It will soon be make-up-your-mind time for every Opposition MP. If and when the cover of “no deal” is suspended, they will have to either accept or reject what will, however dressed up, be much the same deal as before.

Recent events should concentrate their minds on how to respond – and the risks involved in just saying “no”.