As the sorry events of Brexit have unfolded over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve heard a voice in my head. It’s the voice of Private Hudson, a character in the masterly James Cameron-directed action / sci-fi / horror film Aliens (1986) who was played by the late, great Bill Paxton. Before the aliens show up, Hudson is a swaggering, show-offy git. After they show up, he becomes a quivering, whiny git. In the process, thanks to Paxton’s entertaining performance, he provides the film with most of its memorable lines. And these lines make an appropriate narration to each stage of the Brexit process as things go from bad to worse to catastrophic.
So in the run-up to the referendum when Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Nigel Farage and co were spouting nonsense about how a ‘leave’ vote would free the United Kingdom from the shackles of European Union bureaucracy and officialdom and send it on a new course as a swashbuckling, buccaneering, entrepreneurial, low-regulation economy sailing the seas of international trade and commerce like a cross between Singapore and Captain Blackbeard, I heard the early-on-in-Aliens Hudson bragging: “I’m ready, man. Check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the art badass! You do not want to f**k with me…! We got tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse rifles and we got sonic electronic ballbreakers! We got nukes, knives, sharp sticks!”
However, once the aliens, sorry, the EU negotiators turned up, the tone rapidly changed. Each time I’ve seen the waxen-faced Theresa May trudge back from another unsuccessful round of talks in Brussels, I’ve heard the later-in-Aliens Hudson lament: “Maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events but we just got our asses kicked, pal!”
And now, with May’s hapless cabinet in panic mode and attempting to start preparations for an increasingly likely no-deal Brexit – potentially just 100 days away – I’m hearing Hudson’s even-more desperate voice: “That’s great! That’s just f**king great, man! What the f**k are we supposed to do? We’re in some real pretty shit now, man! Game over, man! Game f**king over! What the f**k are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?”
No doubt if (more probably when) we arrive at a no-deal Brexit on the cut-off date of March 29th next year, the voice I’ll be hearing will be Hudson in full-scale meltdown: “They’re coming outta the walls! They’re coming outta the goddamn walls! We are F**KED!”
Seriously, things are looking bad. With a meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan, which most Westminster politicians seem to hate whether they’re in favour of Brexit or not, pushed back to January, meaning there’ll be bugger-all time to come with an alternative before the end of March, the spectre of a no-deal Brexit looms horribly large. The cabinet has been reported as making two billion pounds available for emergency no-deal preparations, including such things as the worrying-sounding provision of clean drinking water. (The chemicals and gases needed for water purification are currently imported from the EU.) Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has just admitted to putting 3500 British soldiers on standby, presumably in case, among other reasons, food shortages lead to civil disorder. In the midst of all this, business organisations like the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses have professed to be ‘watching in horror’.
If it wasn’t so terrifying, it’d be hilarious to compare the musings on a no-deal Brexit made by Tory politicians in the past, when it seemed just a remote possibility, and now. Only months ago, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt described a no-deal Brexit as ‘a mistake we would regret for generations.’ Interviewed in the most recent Sunday Telegraph, Hunt has suddenly become unconvincingly chipper: “I’ve always thought that even in a no-deal situation, this is a great country, we’ll find a way to flourish and prosper.”
Still, while I’ve marvelled at the astronomical incompetence of Tory politicians over this, I’ve also had to marvel at the epic uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party and the supposed official opposition in parliament.
As I’ve said in the past, there have been aspects of Corbyn I’ve quite admired – but when it comes to Brexit, I’ve been suspicious of his motives ever since he imposed a three-line whip in the House of Commons to make his MPs vote in favour of the activation of Article 50, which triggered the whole Brexit process. Since then, Labour’s approach has veered between the incoherent, with Corbyn and his Brexit secretary Keir Starmer contradicting each other, and themselves, constantly; and the maddening, with Corbyn missing countless open-goals at Prime Minister’s Questions over May’s dire Brexit record; and the galling, as it’s gradually dawned on me that Corbyn actually wants Brexit to happen.
It shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. For all his endorsements of a ‘remain’ vote before the 2016 Brexit referendum, Corbyn has never really liked the EU that much. He’s been anti-Europe at various times in the past, opposing Britain’s membership of the then-EEC in the 1975 European Communities Referendum, opposing the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s and opposing the Lisbon Treaty in the 2000s. I doubt if his attitude differs much from that of his old left-wing guru the late Tony Benn, who once claimed that “Britain’s continuing membership of the (European) Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation.”
At the moment, I’ve read so many conflicting accounts of Labour’s response at Westminster to the postponement of the meaningful vote that my head has begun to hurt. It appears that Corbyn has tabled a motion of no-confidence in Theresa May, as opposed to no-confidence in May’s government. The second of these no-confidence motions would have been binding – a vote would have to be taken – and, if passed, would have resulted in a general election. However, the no-confidence motion in May that Corbyn is proposing isn’t binding and May doesn’t have to allocate it parliamentary time. And even if it’s passed, it won’t cause the fall of the Conservative government.
I’d have thought that with all the dire predictions about what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit at the end of March – twenty-mile lorry tailbacks at Dover, airplanes grounded, supermarkets running out of food, hospitals running out of medicine, the pound going through the floor, the economy going belly-up – Labour would be throwing everything at Theresa May’s government just now, up to and including the kitchen sink. Sure, people have pointed out that if there was a no-confidence vote in the government, the Conservatives (and their friends in the DUP) would probably close ranks and win the vote with slightly-superior numbers. But it’d only take a few Tory MPs with a sense of public duty to vote the other way for the motion to win. And sure, Labour has been scraping behind the Tories in opinion polls recently and aren’t guaranteed to win an election just now. But if they committed themselves to holding a second referendum on Brexit (which is what most Labour activists and supporters want), wouldn’t they stand to pick up many extra votes from frustrated and frightened Remainers?
Surely initiating a no-confidence vote – with the distant chance that a party pledged to holding a second referendum that might end the madness wins power – is better than doing nothing?
But no, Corbyn is just faffing around and pretending to be doing something while secretly waiting for the clock to count down. Then he’ll get the Brexit that, as a traditional leftie, he quietly wants; and, he reckons, the Conservative Party will be so discredited in the ensuing economic chaos that the British population, impoverished and hungry, will suddenly embrace his brand of socialism. Then, like disaster capitalists in reverse, Jeremy and his gang get to build a socialist utopia out of the ruins. How they find the funds to do that, with the post-Brexit economy tanking, is anyone’s guess.
Seeing Corbyn’s non-oppositional, sit-on-his-hands approach to the Conservative government and its Brexit policies, I find myself thinking of another movie, Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun (1993), in which Sean Connery recites an old proverb to Wesley Snipes: “If you sit by the river long enough… you will see the body of your enemy floating by.”
Trouble is, the whole riverbank on which Corbyn and the country generally are sitting is in serious danger of detaching itself and crashing cataclysmically into the river before the bodies of any Tory governments go floating by.