The UK remains in splendid isolation from reality on Brexit

British parliament continues to negotiate with itself as it moves ever closer to the void

UK's foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunty, has said that a rejection of Theresa May's Brexit deal in the House of Commons would be devastating for the Conservative party. Video: BBC/ The Andrew Marr Show

It would be a brave person indeed who would venture a bet on what will emerge this week from the Brexit mayhem in the House of Commons. I have a pretty shrewd idea, however, what the debate will sound like.

The cries of “Order, Order” will more frequent than usual.

The rustling sound in the background will be the great British statesmen of the past turning in their graves.

Assuming there is still no majority for the withdrawal agreement, the loudest sound will be the now familiar one of Theresa May kicking the can down the road.


The sound of crew members, on both port and starboard sides, jostling to get hold of the tiller before the ship crashes into the rocks will grow louder.

From the Conservative benches, we will hear the sound of dead horses being flogged, sabres being rattled and canoes with no paddles being lined up for launch. Hobby horses will be breathing heavily. Theresa May will offer another rendition of Take a Chance on Me from her Abba’s Greatest Hits album, apparently untroubled by the knowledge that SOS has shot to the top of the national charts. Ladbrokes are quoting odds on which Tory backbencher can come up with the most deluded second World War metaphor.

The bang of a stable door

Opposite them, there will be the sound of colours being nailed belatedly to masts. There will be the bang of a stable door being slammed shut, hopefully with no equine whinnying in the distance. Jeremy Corbyn will be humming away to himself, a merrier tune than last month but so quietly that people will still be straining to work out what tune he is humming.

Most of his backbenchers will be breathing sighs of relief but will be holding back on the chorus of hallelujah. There will also be the sound of some Labour dogs barking up wrong trees, bets being hedged, and constituency begging bowls being rattled.

Eerie silence lies ahead, if common sense does not prevail, for a great country that has a proud history of being so vocal

There will be plenty of fine words but most of the Brexit parsnips will remain unbuttered. The spokesmen of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalist Party will appear as figures of reason, a task made immeasurably easier by the contrast between them and Sammy Wilson sitting behind them offering whatever inanity is best calculated to undermine the credibility of his DUP colleagues.

Bridges being burned

It will be interesting to hear what sounds emanate from the Independent Group to replace their initial soundtrack of bombshells being dropped and bridges being burned. Their MPs will be prophesying Brexit doom, their tragic fate to be believed by nobody – except, in a modern twist to the Cassandra tale, by a growing majority of the British public.

The inappropriately named European Research Group (not European, no balanced research and not really a group) will put on display some of the verbal acrobatics that define their peculiar brand of Englishness.

Peter Bone will speak through his accustomed hat. Jacob Rees-Mogg will pontificate with his stiff upper aristocratic lip. Boris Johnson will again demonstrate the art of speaking out of both sides of his mouth at once, so brilliantly that people all around the world will, to use his own phrase, be saying “wow”.

Given the strange acoustics of the parliamentary chamber, the most important sounds will be audible only to those fitted with special hearing aids for the detection of reality – alarm bells ringing, clocks ticking, pennies dropping and chickens coming home to roost.

What we are unlikely to hear, alas, is the sweet sound of heads being banged together. If that doesn’t happen soon, the UK could, as Abba might put it, finally be facing its Waterloo. Is that a faint chuckle from St Helena I hear in the distance?

Meanwhile, from Brussels, 27 voices will be heard still singing from the same hymn sheet. Around European capitals, there will be the clunk of more jaws hitting the floor as they see the British parliament continuing to negotiate with itself in splendid isolation from reality.

The EU’s efforts to refocus on promoting its interests in the real world, will be accompanied by the gentle sound of sleeves being rolled up and an important page being turned.

What worries me most over the coming days, however, is not the sound and fury that will echo around the House of Commons. It is the near silence that will prevail about Britain’s real interests and role in the world.

It is the eerie silence that lies ahead, if common sense does not prevail, for a great country that has a proud history of being so vocal, articulate and influential.

A can makes an interesting clatter as you kick it down the road. But eventually you run out of road. If the can goes over the precipice it will fall silently into the void.

Bobby McDonagh is a former Irish ambassador to the EU, Britain and Italy