On Tuesday, Theresa May announced she will give MPs another chance to vote on Brexit in early June. Downing Street said a vote on the bill was “imperative” if the UK was to leave the EU before MPs’ summer recess. Despite the warning, the deal is facing almost certain defeat, as Conservative rebels and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) claim they will vote it down.
Labour also said it will not support the bill without significant further concessions.
If Mrs May’s plan is defeated for the fourth time, Number 10 said the UK is set for no deal or for Article 50 to be revoked.
It has become clear that Brexit has placed the UK in a deep political crisis, but the rifts in Westminster we see today over Britain’s relationship with the bloc have been a key feature in the political antics of the House of Commons for decades.
In a throwback episode of Yes Minister, a political sitcom which aired on the BBC from 1980 to 1984, Britain’s troubled relationship with Europe is brilliantly described.
In the scene, Sir Humphrey Appleby – the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Administrative Affairs (a fictional department) – tells his minister, Jim Hacker, that Brussels is about to decree that there should be a new European identity card to be carried by all citizens of the European Economic Community (EEC) – the precursor to the EU.
After Mr Hacker reacts with a “Good Lord”, Sir Humphrey continues: “Now the Foreign Office is quite ready to go along with it as a quid pro quo for a deal over the butter mountain, the wine lake and the milk ocean, the lamb war and the cod stick.
“And quite obviously the Prime Minister wants you to introduce the legislation.”
A horrified Mr Hacker claims that introducing such legislation would be political suicide and asks Sir Humphrey why the Foreign Office cannot do it instead of his department.
Sir Humphrey replies: “In fact, that was the Prime Minister’s original suggestion but the Foreign Secretary thought this was a Home Office matter and the Home Office took the view that it was essentially an administrative matter and the Prime Minister agreed.
“Well, I am afraid that the identity card bill is planned to be the last action of this department.”
Mr Hecker, Minister of the (fictional) Department of Administrative Affairs, rebuts in disbelief: “Does the Foreign Office realise what damage this will do to the European ideal? Surely, the Foreign Office is pro-Europe, isn’t it?”
In a brilliant response, Mr Humphrey says: “Yes and no, if you forgive the expression.
“The Foreign Office is pro-Europe because it is really anti-Europe.
“The Civil Service was united in its desire to make sure the Common Market didn’t work.
“That’s why we went into it.
“Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe.
“In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule you see.
“Why should we change now when it has worked so well?
“We tried to break it out from the outside, but that wouldn’t work.
“Now that we are inside, we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing
“Set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch.
“The Foreign Office is terribly pleased it is just like old times.”
In complete shock Mr Hecker tells him: “Surely we are all committed to the European ideal…”
With a big smile, Sir Humphrey responds: “Really, minister…
“If not, why are we pressing for an increase in the membership?”
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