By Patrick Kidd, Political Sketchwriter
The Times – 24 October 2017
It is a well-established custom in the House of Commons that hypothetical scenarios voiced by MPs on your own side are always “thoughtful suggestions”, no matter how ridiculous they are, while tamer pieces of whataboutery put forward by the party opposite are dismissed as unimaginable.
So when Julian Lewis rose to support Theresa May’s assertion that Labour would pay the EU whatever it asks to get a good Brexit deal, he did not suggest a sum of £60 billion, as is assumed to be the upper limit of Brussels greed in this matter, but went for something outlandish.
“If our EU friends were to demand a sum of £1 trillion, the opposition would have to accept that because they would not walk away under any circumstances,”
he reasoned. Mrs May agreed that Labour would indeed merrily write out a cheque with 12 zeroes on it and thanked him for “very graphically” illustrating the Opposition’s position.
Never mind that £1 trillion is the equivalent of six-and-a-half years of the EU’s entire budget, it suits the government to have people believe that Labour will pay anything and the New Forest East MP was happy to push the envelope. You can see why he has a DPhil in Strategic Studies, a qualification that means the Speaker, who is a chum, always calls him “the good doctor”.
Boris Johnson applauded. The Foreign Secretary has been known to make the odd exaggerated claim himself and appreciates a fellow Baron Munchausen. Mr Johnson, of course, would have gone way past a mere trillion and claimed that Labour would give those Johnny Eurocrats a vajillion gazillion, stud rights on all the Queen’s horses and first dibs on the best seats at Covent Garden but he is an artist.
Then Philip Davies (C, Shipley) popped up to tell Mrs May that she should not pay Europe a farthing more than our legal obligations. If we have any spare billions lurking down the back of the Treasury sofa, he said, they should be spent on social care and pay rises for nurses.
“into Jean-Claude Juncker’s wine cellar, which I am sure is rapidly diminishing as we speak.”
The Tories around him hyah-hyah-hyah-ed heartily for the president of the European Commission’s appreciation of the grape is a favourite topic of humour. Mrs May agreed again.
“We are not just going to sign up to anything like the Labour Party,”
she told him, leaving uncorrected Mr Davies’s suggestion that the EU’s goal is simply to make Juncker drunker.
While she was happy to entertain Tory hypotheticals, though, a claim by Stephen Kinnock (Lab, Aberavon) that the lack of a trade deal would cause traffic chaos around Dover was slapped down. Mr Kinnock said customs officials had warned him that if it takes two minutes longer to process each lorry leaving the country, it would cause a 17-mile tailback on the M20.
The Prime Minister gave him a withering look, like Captain Mainwaring addressing Private Pike.
“We’re going to have frictionless trade so the problem won’t arise,”
Mrs May said. Stupid boy. Although if it had been a Tory claiming that Labour’s Brexit policy would lead to gridlock stretching from the Channel to John O’Groats she would probably have accepted it as a fair point well made.