Kevin McKenna: Labour spectacularly failing to halt Tory Brexit mess

WHEN the fog of Brexit clears inevitably Britain will be urged to pause and to take stock of its situation. Old and familiar narratives, which have served the UK ruling classes for generations are already being dusted down and made ready for the post-Brexit challenges.

Theresa May is making plans to stage a festival of Brexit in 2022 which, she says, will be a “moment of national renewal”. Earlier this week Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called for “national reconciliation”. His Grace doesn’t need me to tell him that any act of reconciliation, according to Christian teaching and tradition, requires one of the parties at least to admit wrongdoing and to pledge, to the best of their endeavours, not to repeat their errors. I wish him good luck with that when he discusses how best to achieve this with Mrs May or her successor.

Thus, the process of softening up the electorate has already begun. The next stage will be to condemn those curmudgeons who insist still on complaining of undermining national unity and seeking to sew division during a fragile period. Perhaps another little one-sided overseas military engagement might be organised to drive home the message of national pride and solidarity. This worked a treat with the Falklands.

Thereafter, it will only be a matter of pinning the blame on the unreasonable behaviour of our former European partners in holding the UK to ransom. The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph will bid against each other to publish the Brexit diaries of David Davis or Liam Fox in which EU perfidy during the negotiations is laid bare.

You might fondly imagine that the leadership of the UK Labour Party and its myriad advisers might be alive to this and be making plans to undermine and to expose the impending fiction of national wellbeing. This cannot be guaranteed.

Last week the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was presented with the biggest political open-goal since Harold Macmillan cashed in on Anthony Eden’s catastrophic handling of the Suez Crisis in 1957. Unlike that great Tory grandee Mr Corbyn missed his opportunity. Mrs May was reeling from three Commons defeats in a single hour which included her government being found to be in contempt of parliament for the first time in modern history. She was then forced to publish in full the legal advice on her EU withdrawal deal by her attorney-general. Her position and Geoffrey Cox’s integrity was further undermined when this advice was revealed to have included the warning that the Northern Ireland backstop might be “indefinite” and that there was no guarantee that trade talks might lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr Corbyn’s task was a simple one: to point out that what remained of the Prime Minister’s political credibility was in tatters; that Homer Simpson could have done a better job than her Brexit negotiating team and that she was now morally bound either to resign or to call a general election which would effectively become the storied “People’s Vote”. Instead he chose to talk for the 94th time about the iniquities of Universal Credit, deploying themes which are now so familiar that seven-year-olds are repeating them in their school essays.

Instead it was left to the SNP’s formidable Westminster duo of Ian Blackford and Joanna Cherry to show Mr Corbyn yet again what effective parliamentary opposition ought to look like. Such has been the scale of the Conservative Party’s incompetence and dishonesty that in any other era a genuinely left-wing Labour Party would have had an outstanding and historic opportunity of winning a general election. These last two years or so have repeatedly exposed the essential villainy and callousness that form the twin ribbons of the UK Conservatives’ DNA. Each week brings fresh evidence of it.

The Times revealed this week that Priti Patel, the UK’s former Trade Minister, had effectively sought to use the possibility of food shortages in a No Deal scenario as leverage in forcing Ireland’s hand during negotiations. In her favour you could argue that Ms Patel was simply echoing Tory attitudes to Ireland 200 years ago which led to the Great Famine and the deaths of more than one million people. This chimes with earlier sentiments about Ireland made by Jacob Rees-Mogg who doesn’t think that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic presents a problem. “There would be our ability, as we had during the Troubles, to have people inspected. It’s not a border that everyone has to go through every day, but of course for security reasons during the Troubles we kept a very close eye on the border, to try and stop gun-running and things like that.”

Earlier this week David Davis, in a rare moment of Tory candour, said that if sterling crashed following a No Deal Brexit this “was not a bad thing”. This assertion only lacked the words “for multi-millionaires like me”. That millions of normal people with average jobs and average incomes would be harmed by the pound crashing didn’t merit a moment’s thought from the former Brexit minister. In the midst of such casual indifference to the potential for human suffering it’s been left to party grandees such as Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke to show that decency can still be found in this Tory Nineveh.

Theresa May has now asked an assortment of Tory foot-soldiers to fan out across the UK in a charm offensive to sell her Brexit deal to the people. Glasgow is to get David Mundell. Is this the first sign that Mrs May actually possesses a sense of humour? The Scottish Secretary had previously pledged to resign if Mrs May’s deal eroded Northern Ireland’s place in the Union. Yet this is the deal he is tasked with selling to the people of Glasgow (presumably having weighed up the benefits of a ministerial salary and car before the fiscally taxing Christmas period).

This week has shown that the Conservatives are utterly impervious to the human consequences of its Brexit adventure. It’s also cast doubt on the ability of the UK Labour Party to take advantage of this wickedness.