With every passing day, the government’s attempts to implement Brexit descend deeper and deeper into farce.
Yesterday, it all started with David Davis’ threat to resign – not the first time he has threatened to do so, and quite possibly not the last.
Davis was unhappy with the text of a proposed “backstop”, a fallback option if a permanent deal is not reached in time between the UK and Brussels. The language, passed by Theresa May, referred to an indefinitely time-limited backstop which Brexit-backers feared could permanently delay our departure from the EU.
Davis headed to Downing Street for crunch talks. One minute we were told all was well, there had been “constructive” discussions and Davis was definitely, categorically, staying put.
The next minute he was heading back into Number 10 for one more word with his boss. Apparently the initial talks were not as conclusive as we had been led to believe.
When the temporary customs arrangement details were finally published it was hard to tell who had blinked. Yes, May had caved in and added a date by which the backstop should end. Hooray sang the Brexiters. But with so many caveats, the date had less meaning than Donald Trump’s late-night tweets. The one saving grace is the fact the language is fluffy enough that it may be accepted by Brussels. We find out Michel Barnier's verdict today.
But the verdict from Westminster was clear.
“Quite bizarre,” said one Remain-backing MP. “Fudge!” cried sources on both sides. “Get used to it,” murmured another.
Later in the afternoon it was Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan’s turn in the spotlight, after he admitted a second referendum on the final deal was “possible”. This appeared to be an unforced error from the deputy of one of the government’s most ardent Brexiters. However, unlike Labour’s Owen Smith, who was kicked off the shadow frontbench for daring to suggest such an idea, at the time of writing Duncan appeared to be keeping his job.
Into the weekend, the European Research Group (ERG) of ardent Brexit-backers is said to be mulling some form of reprisal for May’s failure to keep eurosceptic MPs properly briefed on the amendments for next week’s EU Withdrawal Bill. As a result, would-be mutineer Remainers are holding off on their rebellion for fear that May might finally be ousted.
In other words, professed loyalists are gunning for their leader while the supposed rebels desperately scramble to prop her up (for now).
It’s a crazy situation, but one we better get used to.