Kenny MacAskill: Treating a few migrants like the Spanish Armada is just one of ‘Brexit’s Follies’

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Declaring a major incident over a handful of people trying to cross the English Channel and talking about building new military bases around the world are just two of the UK Government’s ‘Brexit Follies’, writes Kenny MacAskill.

The festive season provided a bumper crop of ‘Brexit Follies’. Audiences around Europe must have been unsure whether to laugh or cry at the antics in the UK, though the growing frustration of EU political leaders was clearly audible. What was mildly amusing or just disconcerting is now a clear irritancy to them, which is a worry for the rest of us threatened by British political dysfunctionality.

A UK Border Force boat patrols Dover Harbour amid a 'major incident' over a handful of people crossing the English Channel (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A UK Border Force boat patrols Dover Harbour amid a 'major incident' over a handful of people crossing the English Channel (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

One episode was reminiscent of a scene from “Dad’s Army” with ministers and officials running around shouting “Don’t Panic” as if a national crisis was upon us. The Home Secretary even had to break into his “safari” to return home and deal with it, though why he was away in the first place was never properly answered. Ministers are entitled to holidays, as I’ve said before, but this is a time of crisis and that was a sojourn too far. Returning wasn’t a sign of command but an indication of dereliction of duty in the first place.

I recall being assigned Jerome K Jerome’s book Three Men in a Boat nearly 50 years ago and finding it painfully dull. Six Iranians in a boat seemed a much more exciting story but hardly a national crisis. Whilst most of us saw bemused and bedraggled refugees more to be pitied than feared, Sajid Javid seemed to see a latter-day Spanish Armada sailing to scale the White Cliffs of Dover.

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That it was majored on by the BBC as a festive highlight was truly shameful but simply adds to their litany of “boosterism” for Brexit through the parading of charlatans like Farage and the pandering to the agenda of the lunatic ERG group of Tories. Also, largely left uncommented on was that the immediate solution is closer cooperation with France, as was the fact that no more than Trump’s Wall will the seas provide a barrier to desperate people. The long-term answers of closer working with the EU and alleviating the issues making people flee – many caused by actions in which the UK has been complicit – were also left unsaid.

To their credit, the BBC did provide a major expose with the Ramsgate Ferry debacle. That it fell at the door of Chris Grayling, the Transport minister, is no surprise. Almost everything he touches in ministerial office turns to dust. The debacle that is the English justice system, with prisons in crisis, probation in meltdown and legal aid a thing of the past for most, is largely down to his tenure.

Now he’s turning his hand to transport and continuing where he left off, moving seamlessly in his trail of destruction from railways to waterways. At least Admiral Nelson had a plan at the Battle of Copenhagen when disobeying admiralty orders and putting the telescope to his blind eye, saying: “I see no ships.”

Grayling has simply given £14 million of taxpayers’ money to a company with no track record and no ships, to save UK freight from the consequences of a “no deal” Brexit which he helped to create. You couldn’t make it up, as they say.

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Joining in the Follies with his own inimitable contribution was Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, a man more noted for his bombast and bellicosity than tact or diplomacy despite the sensitivity of the post. Having berated Russia and demanded unlimited funds for unspecified threats or undetailed ventures, he came on our screens to tell us of the possibilities of re-establishing military bases in South East Asia or the Caribbean.

It was more evocative of a scene from “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” with a deluded Sergeant Major bellowing pointless orders at young conscripts. Williamson gave the impression that he would like nothing better than to give some ‘uppity nation’ a good thrashing, probably dreaming of sailing gunboats up some delta to sort them out.

But this is 2019 and Britain is no longer a super-power. In Asia, it’s China that looms large. Britain is part of the region’s history and a far-from-glorious chapter at that. Where does ‘Flashman’ Williamson imagine re-establishing a base? Singapore, perhaps, that was a jewel in his beloved empire but which was surrendered ignominiously to a much smaller Japanese Army. They’ll neither want it, nor would the Chinese allow it. The days of sorting out the Boxer Rebellion are long gone and China dominates the UK not just militarily but economically.

As for the Caribbean, so often seen as “America’s backyard”, justifying illegal invasions and other abuses, where can he be considering? It’s as ill-considered and frankly vacuous as a trade deal with Trump. Perhaps the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands, where so much wealth is hidden that should be taxed and used to fund our public services. After all, there’s plenty space there as it’s mostly brass plates and simply a ruse for London finance offices.

All this from a minister presiding over a navy that can’t fit out its ships properly and an army that shamefully can’t provide for its troops. But, hey ho, it sounds good and gutsy and they’ll love it down at the Old Bull and Bush or wherever they’re snorting down their G&Ts and dreaming of soon-to-be-restored glories. So good the first time that they desire endless repeats!

The amount of money being wasted on this charade is criminal as folk go hungry and many live without a home. This is a parody of a Government and May’s “strong and stable” slogan will cause endless flashbacks and mirth in years to come. Most empires collapse through war or revolution, Britain’s is dying through delusion. It would be mildly amusing if it wasn’t so tragic in its consequences.

I’m no lover of the Empire and have sought for Scotland to go its own way. But, there’s still a respect for much that has been and a warmth for elsewhere in the UK. It’s tragic that a once-proud nation which carried influence well beyond its military or economic strength has been reduced to this.