Belfast Telegraph

Chris Moncrieff: Can Theresa May pull off her Houdini trick and silence her Brexit critics?


Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May
John Bercow
Tom Watson
David Lammy

By Chris Moncrieff

There is nothing like a strict deadline to concentrate the mind. As Brexit Day, March 29, moves inexorably closer, there appears to be at least some discernible thawing among the icy crags of Tory backbench rebellion, which could yet give Theresa May a chance - at one time thought impossible - to achieve an agreement by the due date.

This latest development has been welcomed by Dr Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary. And, should it persist, the Prime Minister may yet be able to achieve that miracle on time, for which she has been striving relentlessly for months. What a triumph that would be.

But these painful negotiations have had their very ugly side. The threat by three Cabinet ministers - Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke - to side with the rebels was a total disgrace. This disloyal trio should have been sacked on the spot.

But, whatever happens at Westminster in the next three weeks, both the main political parties appear to be in danger of shedding more members to the new Independent Group of deserters.

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair is firmly of the opinion that that will happen, either because of Labour's left-wing lurch, or the alleged nationalism in the Conservative Party.

Brexit has certainly turned the political landscape upside down.

And to quote the late Ronald Reagan: "You ain't seen nothing yet."

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A friend at Westminster whispered to me the other day that David Lammy, the vociferous Labour MP for Tottenham, is becoming something of a pain in the neck.

His latest grouse is to say that they can do without any more "white saviours" in Africa.

This is a swipe at Comic Relief, which each year donates thousands and thousands of pounds to alleviate suffering around the world.

In particular, Mr Lammy had a go at TV's Stacey Dooley for the "stereotyped" photograph of her holding an African child.

I can't see what the colour of a person's skin should have to do with the generosity of people anxious to help others less fortunate than themselves. Gratitude might have been more appropriate.

Tom Watson, the genial deputy leader of the Labour Party, has landed himself in hot water for offering what most people would consider to be a useful service to the party. He said that all complaints of anti-Semitism in the party should be referred to him and he would deal with them as best he could.

But this seemingly well-meaning offer was almost immediately met with by a ferocious letter from the party's general secretary Jennie Formby.

She accused him of completely unacceptable behaviour and claimed that he would be confusing and polluting the formal action being taken within the party to deal with these matters.

I am glad to say that Mr Watson, far from contrite, has stuck to his guns.

It is certainly a novel concept to me that paid officials should have the temerity to tell MPs how to behave.

In any event, I would have thought the Labour Party had enough real problems on its plate without indulging in a ludicrous and unnecessary over the top war of words like this.

The Conservative Party has been labelled the "nasty party" (an expression once used by Theresa May herself), the "toffs' party", as well as various other soubriquets too rude to be printed here.

But it should now, it seems, also be labelled the "anti-book party" judging by what Speaker John Bercow told the House of Commons the other day.

Spotting a Conservative MP entering the chamber bearing an armful of books, Bercow observed: "In the Conservative Party, which used to be my party, it was frequently said that to be seen carrying a book was dangerous, but to be seen reading it was fatal."

It would, therefore, appear that, if you have ambitions to become a success as a Tory politician, you would be better advised to have a copy of Beano in your hands, rather than War And Peace.

Belfast Telegraph


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