With most Labour MPs having long since retreated to their constituencies to begin the six-week fight to hold on to their seats, Brexit questions on the last day of parliament were largely handed over to a Conservative love-in. And no one was better suited to preside over these proceedings than Robin Walker, the most junior of ministers in the department for exiting the EU.
Walker has the look of a man-boy whose career highlight was to have been a junior prefect at a minor public school. Posh but rather dim. Someone best suited to being an upmarket wedding planner who has – much to his own surprise as well as everyone else’s – found himself at the heart of government.
No, he hadn’t visited Southend or Southampton airports recently, Walker said in answer to questions about the impact of Brexit on tourism and aviation. But he was sure they would play a key part in any future deal Britain struck with the EU. And he had heard that their catering services were absolutely first class.
Walker scratched his head, convinced he had left something out. He looked through his brief and all became clear. He had forgotten to say, “Strong and stable.” “Strong and stable,” he said.
The Supreme Leader nodded appreciatively back in Downing Street. Walker’s job was safe. For another day at least.
“Could he say whether he was impressed by the eloquence of the Brexit minister’s speech at a conference yesterday?” asked the Conservative Steve Baker. Walker looked blank before remembering that the customer was always right. Whatever conference David Davis had been speaking at, he was 100% confident that the secretary of state would have been talking with the utmost brilliance.
Worried that he hadn’t been quite enthusiastic enough, Walker said he doubted if anyone could ever have spoken better about anything. Nor more strongly and more stably. The Supreme Leader made another tick in her notebook.
But this drew an acid response from Labour’s Barry Sheerman, who wondered when Walker was going to stop reading from his brief and start answering questions. Walker was confused. The only point of him was to read things out. If Labour had wanted a proper answer, they should have asked somebody else. Strongly and stably does it.
After about 20 minutes, Davis finally chose to make a contribution. It’s come as a shock to the secretary of state to find himself cast in the role of statesman in recent weeks – in the world of Boris, the one-eyed man is king – and he’s still learning to affect the right degree of gravitas. He may have too much self-worth to mindlessly repeat, “Strong and stable” in every sentence, but he still finds it hard to avoid picking a fight.
Having been pressed on workers’ rights several times – no one cared more deeply than he – he had finally had enough. The EU had nothing to teach Britain about workers’ rights, he insisted. So everyone should just get off his back. The rights that British workers needed were the ones this government was going to give them. Which part of that couldn’t Labour understand?
The shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, quoted from a new report that has branded the process for acquiring British residency unfit for purpose, and wondered whether it was government policy to tell EU residents not to apply.
What if it was? Davis shrugged. Everything was going to be just fine for the next couple of years at least and EU nationals should just chill out. But even if it wasn’t fine, who really cared?
The last Labour MP left standing was Chuka Umunna, who seemed to have fallen through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and reappeared some time after his party’s humiliating election defeat.
“The prime minister talks about unity,” Umunna said, in a bid to take over the leadership of the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation on 9 June. “But she was the one who sent out buses telling immigrants to ‘go home’. She was one who cast any opposition as saboteurs.”
“You forgot to say, ‘Strong and stable,’” squeaked Walker.
“Whatever,” snapped Davis.
“Strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable.”
The Supreme Leader flicked her screen to off. All was well.