Brexit, the sideshow

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In a Trump-esque display of faux machismo, Brexit Secretary David Davis texted a Conservative colleague that he’d never kiss Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott because he’s “not blind.”

The leaked message follows reports that Davis tried to kiss Abbott in a House of Commons bar. Ms Abbott allegedly told Mr Davis to “fuck off” during the incident which came after the Commons’ victorious vote in favour of Article 50.

The post-Brexit future of the country rests on an ambitious, untested and confused methodology of international diplomacy but, no matter, it’s senior politicians are having pubescent exchanges and ripostes.

Ms. Abbott has already disgraced herself recently by not voting in the debate, claiming she was too ill with a migraine at the time. Rumours abound that she did so to avoid defying the three-line whip of her party and thus resignation. A total of 10 Labour junior shadow ministers voted against triggering Article 50 in revolt against Jeremy Corbyn of whom Abbott is a close personal friend.

This is not to be dismissive. Abbott has previously said that misogyny and a torrent of sexual threats online are a regular part of her political life. Nevertheless, in this instance, it would seem that on the part of the media, and perhaps the politicians themselves, an effort is made to create a sideshow spectacle away from the broader uncertainty of Brexit.

There is evidence of this. The unnamed Conservative friend of Davis with whom he had his text exchange said he couldn’t believe that Davis made an attempt to hug Abbott. Davis replied, “Didn’t but the myth grows. I whispered in her ear ‘Thanks for your vote’. I am not blind.”

What is curious then is precisely how tame this ‘scandal’ is in comparison to the good old-fashioned British sex scandals of days gone by. Instead, when one reads the stories and looks at the characters involved it feels like a sleight of hand.

Davis was asked whether he expected Prime Minister Theresa May to deliver the Article 50 letter at an EU summit in Brussels on March 9 and 10. May had previously declared the end of March, but there is some concern that this will clash with a summit of the other 27 states on March 25 to celebrate the European bloc’s 60th anniversary. Mr Davis, in contract, has said: “The 9th or 10th is not a date I recognise in terms of our timetable. What we have said is by the end of March, sometime during March.” The Government has refused to confirm the exact day they will serve notice on the Brussels.

Consider the context then. The funny, and beyond pastiche element of Brexit is lions are being led by donkeys into the abyss of a trade and economic uncertainty. There is absolutely no evidence the UK Government has a plan for the immediate future (beyond saying that they do and desperately spending the past six months trying to stop the House of Commons having a say on Brexit altogether).

Could Davis’ misdemeanour is actually of benefit to the UK Government because it distracts away from their, at best, disjointed strategy? More likely the real revelation here is not the subsequent remark made about Abbott, but by the hubris which prompted the Brexit minister to, in his extreme jubilation, to try and embrace a senior member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet.

He is not alone. The Iron Lady (Mark II) marching to EU capitals in designer stilettos and across the world stage has become something of a minor novelty; but not because she’s avant-garde. May regularly comes across as a flustered grandmother at a bake sale who’s forgotten something and it’s the sad truth that even the loathsome politics of personality has morphed into the politics of pantomime. Life now imitates art and today’s politics and politicians could well have come from the pastiche ‘The Thick of It’ over the nuance of ‘Yes, Minister’.

Davis said that he is “very sorry” for any offence caused by the content of the text messages. One wonders if he will apologise for what happens next to the country.

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About Alastair Stewart 256 Articles
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He was previously a press officer in the Scottish Parliament and worked in public affairs. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations and writes regularly on politics and the arts in the Spanish and British press.

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