Nothing to laugh about in the mess that is British politics

Sneering at brashness of many Westminster MPs will not prevent hard border

British prime minister Boris Johnson. “This is a prime minister not fit for office, presiding over a political order that has long since ceased to function.” Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

British prime minister Boris Johnson. “This is a prime minister not fit for office, presiding over a political order that has long since ceased to function.” Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

 

Boris Johnson has lost his majority, his claim to be an upholder of the rule of law, his unionist credentials and many luminaries of the Conservative Party too. On Wednesday night in the Commons he seemed to have entirely lost his mind.

When confronted on his inflammatory language by a friend of the late MP Jo Cox, murdered by a far-right extremist in her constituency before the 2016 Brexit referendum, Johnson dismissed the complaint as “humbug”, and later said the best way to honour Cox’s memory was to “get Brexit done”.

Even Scrooge saw the light in the end, but Johnson gives no indication that this is forthcoming.

Neither Ireland nor the European Union win any prizes for counting their lucky stars that Johnson isn’t their premier

This is a prime minister not fit for office, presiding over a political order that has long since ceased to function. Westminster is experiencing a total systems failure. Its parliament is lifeless, the government has nothing close to a majority but the opposition is denying it an election.

MPs can’t find a way out of the Brexit mire. The Tory party is no longer the home of Ken Clarke or Churchill’s grandson. Labour reviles some of its greatest living figures as Red Tories or, even worse, Blairites.

Old enmities and prejudices have re-emerged at the top levels of the British state. The prime minister jokes about “Murphy”. The establishment press rails against foreigners across the sea - from snooty frogs to simple paddies.

It would be easy to look on and laugh at the mess: to find the whole thing risible; despair at the absence of adults in the room; to imagine – wrongly – that things like this could never happen here.

Schadenfreude

It is no secret that schadenfreude can be fun. But it doesn’t get us anywhere.

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here

When Leo Varadkar deftly mocked Johnson on the steps of Government Buildings two weeks ago, offering to be the “Athena” to the UK’s Herculean task it was funny, and certainly demonstrated a classical literacy Johnson so admires.

But it wasn’t wise – and not merely because indulging in Johnson’s charade is tiresome. But because there is nothing to be gained from aping the penchant for mannered nastiness that has become the calling card of the present British government.

There is no value in regarding the House of Commons with superior self-satisfaction: that the British government has brought this on itself by resorting to drastic measures such as prorogation; that this display is the natural culmination of a political system so hopelessly divided it is beyond reconciliation; that Westminster has simply got what it was asking for by trying to resolve the seemingly irresolvable European question.

Jo Cox reminded people before her death that there is more in common than what divides us

Because no matter the state of British politics, and whether any of the above are fair charges or not, the Irish Government still has duties to uphold at a moment of significant upheaval. Sneering at the brashness of many Westminster MPs doesn’t prevent a hard border in the North.

Neither Ireland nor the European Union win any prizes for counting their lucky stars that Johnson isn’t their premier. The economic consequences of Brexit – of any stripe – are not mitigated by jeering and sniping from the sidelines.

The present political climate is a mess. And Anglo-Irish relations have been better, to deploy some British understatement. But time, famously, moves on. Politics won’t stay here. And we haven’t, despite the way it might look, reached the end of history just quite yet. The UK will change – Brexit or no Brexit, deal or no deal, “come what may” – and Ireland will still have its obligations to fulfil.

Co-operation

Whatever happens, Britain and Ireland still need to trade together, they need to progress the ongoing resolution of the Troubles, power-sharing needs to be restored in Stormont, and ministers need to attend the British-Irish Council as per the Belfast Agreement.

They still need to work together on the Common Travel Area, even under a no-deal Brexit. And as two democracies in an embattled western world, they need to co-operate on international questions from science to climate change to defence.

There is a special relationship worth protecting. Point-scoring might seem fun for now but it will only ensure that the last laugh is a hollow one.

And beyond this, sanity will return to the United Kingdom. Sensible politicians will return to the front lines, restoring normality. Sajid Javid is still the chancellor, and Emily Thornberry is still the shadow foreign secretary.

The relationship between the two countries is much deeper than the crass musings of Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. And this is about more than an invisible border or alternative arrangements; a snide op-ed calling Varadkar naive; or a heavy-handed joke on the steps of the Government Buildings.

Jo Cox reminded people before her death that there is more in common than what divides us. And that might not be true just right now, but at some point it will be.

Finn McRedmond is based in Westminster and writes for current affairs website reaction.life and City AM

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