Send in the clowns

Send in the clowns
How do you stick to the script when there isn't one? Molly Scott Cato MEP gives her latest take on the unfolding Brexit drama as the government continues to can-can its way over a cliff edge

As we move through the Brexit drama, it becomes ever clearer that we are surrounded by stock characters better placed in the theatre than the realm of politics. Theresa May is the tragic heroine, trapped by her own powerlessness, surrounded by enemies and doomed to fail. Boris Johnson is a villain of Shakespearean proportions, his blind ambition a fatal flaw, with Michael Gove, his sinister Iago, lurking in the background ready to pounce. 

David Davis is definitely the buffoon of the piece, whose antics on stage are a classic performance of misdirection. How else are we to interpret his near farcical performance in front of Parliament’s Exiting the European Union (ExEU) Committee, where he denied that the impact studies he had previously described as including ‘excruciating detail’ had ever existed? 

It was disappointing that so many commentators chose to take the line that Davis had somehow forgotten to do his homework. More likely, he decided that a couple of sweaty hours before the ExEU Committee would do him and his project less damage than revealing ‘in excruciating detail’ quite how bad Brexit will be for our economy.

And so ends Act I. But fear not, for there is even entertainment during the interval in the form of the UKIP Punch and Judy show, as a succession of lead characters are driven off the stage by that poundshop villain, Mr Farage Punch, with his death’s head smile and his hysterical repetition of the phrase: ‘Take back control, take back control’. 

Act II follows shortly after, in which Davis writes to the Prime Minister with an outraged complaint that the EU27 had been so seduced by his performance and were reacting as if he meant what he said and preparing for the hard Brexit he had threatened them with. In true drama-queen style, he wailed about the threat to British business and jobs of the EU27 preparing for a ‘No Deal Brexit’, while the government commits £3 billion of taxpayers’ money preparing for just such a scenario. But of course, we were supposed to be having our cake and eating it. Oh no we weren’t. Oh yes we were. How dare the EU prepare for the worst and put the interests of its 27 Member States above those of the UK, which has opted to leave?

David Davis reprises his part as the blustering and over-confident Brexit Bulldog, wholly out of touch and out of his depth. The ‘Take Back Control’ delusion has clearly gone to his head and he has failed to consider that the EU will have a response to the UK leaving the EU. And when they do respond, he cries: ‘Not fair!’.

A scene which seems to have been dropped from the performance is the one where Theresa May creates a space around the cabinet table for a ‘No Deal Minister’. This was obviously considered in the end to be just too divisive in a cabinet where there is a wide range of views about scene changes, from ‘very modest’ changes to the British-EU relationship post-Brexit, to a cliff-edge backdrop where the UK is seen disappearing in dramatic fashion into a deep and turbulent ocean.

Most of what is taken to be news about Brexit is little more than a cabaret to keep the crowds happy while the real power-play can continue unhindered. While the news agenda focuses on rating the performances of the characters, behind the scenes power is shifting. While the public is distracted by the floorshow, the clock to Brexit day is counting down. How ironic that it will be 1 April 2019 when these clowns finally take off their masks, revealing themselves to be the very financial and political elite from whose control Brexit was supposed to liberate us.