Article 50 statement: A children's revolution in the mother of parliaments

Tom Peck
From left to right: Remain, Remain, Leave, Leave. The people who must now ‘unite Britain’: AFP/Getty

Dim cheers ushered in history. As the Prime Minister rose, they marked the momentous occasion as if it were a plate dropped by a waiter in a busy restaurant. We’ve all heard it before, that grating “wahey” from a handful of middle-aged idiots in suits sitting in some corner. Far be it from me to to say we heard it again.

What did Theresa May expect? Sovereign parliaments like this one are used to doing what they want. That’s kind of the point. Yet here she was, the Mother of the Mother of Parliaments, standing at the despatch box confirming that the Children’s Revolution was complete. In this place, now, we do what we’re told, however stupid we know it to be.

It’s not like this particular constitutional question has never been tackled before. John Redwood likes to couch it as parliament having “greatness thrust upon it”, a metaphor that, unfortunately, casts John Redwood as greatness, and then compels him to thrust himself upon those who do not wish to be thrust upon.

The whole morning had advanced like some dystopian movie in which the adults are all suddenly doing the children’s bidding. This is not, of course, to doubt the will of the people. It’s just that the will of the people isn’t shared by any of the people who actually have to do it. Not one prime minister, past, present and quite probably even future. Not the vast majority of those sitting there on the sovereign green leather. Just “the people”.

There on the TV had been Sir Tim Barrow, Britain’s chief ambassador to the EU, walking in to that building in Brussels, “the letter” in his briefcase. He moved like an ambulant apology. It was like watching Prospero carry Caliban's firewood. He might as well have carried with him three of those giant letters that children bring on to the pitch at the start of international football matches: WTF?

There had been the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, on the radio, talking of his “excitement” at Britain’s new future – a future he used to describe as “catastrophic” back when he was allowed to tell the truth. Back before, as I say, the children took over.

Having campaigned for Remain and lost, David Cameron chose to walk away from the position Theresa May has chosen to put herself in, on the basis that he could not do it and hope to keep hold of any credibility. Nothing the new Prime Minister told the House put in to doubt the obvious wisdom of that decision.

“Today, the Government act on the democratic will of the British people,” she told them. “And tomorrow, you can all stay up watching cartoons til three in the morning, and after that there’ll be jelly and ice cream for breakfast and no more school. The people have spoken. We must deliver.”

It was, at times, a blissful return to the days of last June. Theresa May told Labour to “stop talking Britain down”. What better way to convince the Brexiteers of the sheer totality of your volte face than to deploy, from a bewildering array of options, their most stupid argument bar none?

Leaving the European Union was “this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country”. Except that the generation that voted for it will be long dead by the time that brighter future doesn’t arrive.

“I want us to be a magnet for international talent,” she said. At this point, I must confess, I laughed extremely loudly. Tea is banned in the gallery, which is just as well. Mine would have been spat directly on to Ed Miliband’s head.

We would be building “a partnership that was in the best interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union”. Even as precisely that partnership was carried back to Brussels in a brief case and left there.

This was, she said, the time that “the whole of the United Kingdom would come together”, to the sounds of howling derision from 56 Scottish Nationalists, not two years shy of their defeat, newly emboldened to drive home their mania by the mania all around them.

The time to come together indeed. There were Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary, sitting together on the front bench, staring directly ahead as if the other were not there, not yet a year since they traded vicious personal insults on live TV.

And a special word for Bill Cash, MP for his own ego, elder statesman of his own imagined world. Of the backbenchers, it was he who was called first, and who diligently piled up the corpses of generations of war dead to plant his victory flag upon. The member for Stone, his finest hour come at last, after three long decades in parliament, an achievement large enough perhaps even to dwarf the “expenses claims” section on his wikipedia page.

“The people have regained their birthright to govern themselves,” he said, “which they fought and died for over generations.”

All those British bodies in the cemeteries across Europe, they’re Brexiteers don’t you know. Every last one. They died for Bill.

Oh well. At least he’s been consistent There’s honour in that. If someone had to speak for Little Britain, why it shouldn’t be him? At Britain’s worst hour, there was its very smallest man.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes