Belfast Telegraph

Can Theresa May pull off Harry Houdini and escape Brexit critics?

 

By Chris Moncrieff

It never rains but it pelts down. That must have been the thought running through the Prime Minister's mind over the calamitous events of the past week or two.

She was already up to her neck in Brexit and the fallout from Philip Hammond's controversial Budget (where is all the money coming from?) when she found herself confronted by a hugely embarrassing ministerial resignation on her doorstep.

This was far more serious than a run-of-the-mill resignation. Tracey Crouch quit as Sports Minister over the Government's delay in implementing a severe crackdown on fixed-odds betting machines, where you can currently stake up to £100 every 20 seconds. The plan is that this should be reduced to £2.

Crouch's resignation has brought support for her, not merely from some Tory colleagues at Westminster, but from MPs of opposition parties, too.

The scale of the criticism on this issue has certainly shocked the Government, although May has said there has been no delay.

But in the opinion of a furious Crouch and her supporters, this is hard to swallow.

There is no appetite for a nanny state, but it is certainly a fact that gambling addicts do need some protection afforded by the State.

We will soon see whether the State is listening.

People have already started to speculate that David Davis, who resigned as Brexit Secretary, is making a subtle bid for the Conservative Party leadership should Theresa May fall by the wayside.

I find that hard to believe.

When, some years ago, he put up for the leadership, he was easily beaten by David Cameron for the job. A day or two after his defeat I bumped into Davis at London's Euston Station.

When I told him I was sorry about the outcome, he replied simply: "I'm not." Davis has many qualities, but his seemingly laid-back attitude leaves you with the distinct impression that leadership is not among those qualities.

Indeed, many people take the view that he should have done much more table banging than he did when dealing with the Brussels negotiators.

So, we will not after all be having the pleasure or otherwise (depending on your point of view) of seeing and hearing David Cameron back in front line politics.

Friends of the former Prime Minister have wasted no opportunity in denying that he was hankering to get back into the political big time again.

When reports of his alleged ambitions to be back at Westminster started to emerge, there were those who suggested Cameron himself was putting his toe in the water to see what the response would be.

Well, the response was certainly not flattering.

It could be summed up as, "Good grief, not him again", which must certainly have killed any appetite he had to return to the green benches.

Many people, rightly or wrongly, blame Cameron for the turmoil over Brexit, which has consumed parliament and politics in general to the exclusion of much else for two years now.

So, I am afraid he will have to satisfy himself by struggling through his memoirs, which I am sure the great reading public is waiting impatiently to devour.

By all accounts Sir Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit Secretary, is embarrassed by or ashamed of his knighthood.

It is certainly true the title of the former head of the Criminal Prosecution Service does not sit comfortably amid the Left-wingers on the Opposition front bench.

However, it has been reported he approached the editor of Hansard, the Official Report of the House of Commons, to ask if he would kindly drop the "Sir" in references to him.

I trust the Hansard editor, a stickler for total accuracy, will ignore this request, which sounds to me like a blatant act of reverse snobbery.

This hugely experienced Queen's Counsel and human rights lawyer has been around long enough, I would have thought, to be aware that you cannot be Sir Keir one day and plain Joe Bloggs the next, whenever it suits you.

If he was so seriously worried about giving the impression he was something a bit superior to the common herd, why did he simply not reject the accolade at the time it was offered to him?

Sorry, Sir Keir, you should be grateful, and not churlish, that you were recognised with this honour. In short: get over it.

Belfast Telegraph

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