At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn didn’t ask one question about Brexit.
Of course, it’s quite right that his questions should have been dominated by the dramatic collapse of Carillion, the company that the government awarded contracts to worth billions of pounds even after they had issued serious profit warnings.
Yet, even in December 2016, Carillion was blaming Brexit for ‘uncertainty’ and a slow-down in their business.
And it’s blindingly obvious that the Tory government is so obsessed and diverted by Brexit, that they have not exercised due diligence on other aspects of daily governance.
Commented Labour’s former Minister for Europe, Denis MacShane:
“It is clear that government taken as a whole – the Treasury, Transport, Education and Justice departments – failed to exercise sufficient supervision over the firm and its myriad operations.
“Right across national and local government, officials were awarding contracts to Carillion and its sub-contractors until just a few days ago.
“But ministers and their senior officials are now diverting so many resources to Brexit that they have no time or civil servants to oversee other key areas of government activity.”
He added, “There are many causes for the Carillion disaster but the way Brexit has taken over normal government work did not help.”
If the Opposition Leader was at all concerned about Brexit, wouldn’t he have mentioned at least something about its adverse impact on the government’s appalling record of governance and foolishly awarding contracts to the beleagured firm without due diligence?
Ok, so Mr Corbyn didn’t mention Brexit at this week’s PMQs. What about last week, the first PMQs of 2018?
Well, on Wednesday last week Mr Corbyn’s questions were dominated by the crisis in the NHS. Mr Corbyn asked the Prime Minister, “If the NHS is so well resourced and so well prepared, why was the decision taken last week to cancel the operations of 55,000 patients during the month of January?”
But once again, Mr Corbyn didn’t mention anything about Brexit, or how it has resulted in over 10,000 NHS EU staff leaving, and how applications to work for our NHS from nurses from the rest of the EU are down by over 95%.
Isn’t that something to do with the current crisis and the chronic shortage of NHS staff?
If you were only to watch Prime Minister’s Questions this year, or on many occasions last year, you’d think the Brexit vote was of no interest or concern to either the leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister.
And yet, Brexit presents the biggest constitutional crisis in Britain’s recent history, and is tying up almost all the government on nothing but Brexit. No wonder the government is barely able to cope with the daily routine of running the country.
Contrast our Parliament in Westminster this week with the European Parliament sitting in Strasbourg.
The Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, gave a 20-minute address in the European Parliament. That’s something our own prime minister, Theresa May, has refused to do, despite being invited.
Mr Varadkar, who reflects Ireland’s strong commitment to the EU project, spoke in English, Gaeilge, French and German to MEPs. He said:
“Despite all the upheavals of recent years – the rise of populism and euroscepticism, nationalism and anti-democratic forces – we meet in solidarity, with a renewed sense of purpose.”
He added, “the promise of a better future has motivated people to work for the European ideal since the beginning.”
And on Brexit and peace, Mr Varadkar said, “Dear friends, it is hard to imagine the Good Friday Agreement being made without our shared membership of the European Union and the single market.”
He continued, “In Ireland we are now having to contemplate our future without the foundation that underpinned it.
“That is why the Irish Government has been so determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement, in all its parts, and in all that flows from it.
“It is why we have insisted that there can be no return to a hard border on our island, no new barriers to the movement of people or to trade.
“And it is why we are so deeply grateful for the remarkable solidarity and support we have received from Member States.
“It is everything we hoped for and more. And it is proof positive of why small countries benefit so much from membership of the EU.”
Of Northern Ireland Mr Varadkar said:
“The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU; the majority of its representatives elected to the Northern Ireland assembly want to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market; and it is likely that the majority of people living in Northern Ireland will remain European citizens after Brexit, because of their unique status as dual Irish/British citizens under the Good Friday Agreement.”
He continued, “The values of solidarity, partnership, cooperation, which are central to the European project, have brought Ireland from a position of being one of the least developed Member States when we joined, to one of the most prosperous today.
“For us, Europe enabled our transformation from being a country on the periphery, to an island at the centre of the world, at the heart of the common European home that we helped to build.”
And the leader of Ireland said with passion:
“European values – peace, friendship, freedom, justice, opportunity, cooperation – are the values that we are committed to advancing in Ireland, on the island of Ireland, within our European family, and in our relations with the wider world.”
Mr Varadkar concluded:
“Building on the great successes and achievements of the past, I believe that with imagination, with creativity, and with courage, we can provide a soul and a heart for Europe, creating opportunities for all our citizens.
“We can ensure that the European ideal that took flight in the last century will soar in the twenty-first.”
Does our Prime Minister, Theresa May, share those values, principles and goals at the heart of what Mr Varadkar called “the European ideal”?
Even though Mrs May batted for Remain in the referendum, there’s no sign that she has any deep-felt feelings for the EU.
Ditto the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. Yes, he’s said he voted for Remain and would do so again if there was another referendum (another referendum which he steadfastly refuses to endorse).
But there’s been no words of passion from Mr Corbyn since the Brexit vote on the importance of Britain being at ‘the heart and soul’ of Europe. Or any speeches by him saying that Brexit was a mistake.
He doesn’t even want Britain to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union – the same as Mrs May. In other words, it’s a ‘hard Brexit’ that both our Government and Opposition are pursuing.
In the European Parliament also this week, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, gave a message to Britain:
“We haven’t had a change of heart. Our hearts are still open for you.”
In other words, Britain could change its mind about Brexit if that’s what Britain wants.
The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, responded to Mr Tusk’s message by saying,
“He said that our door is still open. I hope this is heard in London.”
If ‘London’ means our Government and Opposition, if they heard the message, they are not interested. They are not listening.
But if ‘London’ really means London, one of the world’s greatest capital cities, then yes, London is listening; the city voted against Brexit and wants us to Remain in the European Union.
Ditto Scotland and Northern Ireland.
And now the latest polls by YouGov show that support for Brexit by Leave voters across the country is dropping like a heavy stone.
But with a heavy heart, I have to tell you that our political masters are stuck in the past. They keep bleating on about the ‘will of the people’ as expressed on just one summer’s day on 23 June 2016.
They are not interested to know about the ‘will of the people’ today. They don’t want to know, and they don’t want to find out.
And that my fellow Remainers, new and old, is our biggest problem.
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