Independent Brexit Debate Sketch: Whatever you do, don't mention the score

Tom Peck

I’ve checked the available digital evidence and yes, it really does appear to be that at the very second Jacob Rees-Mogg said, in regard to remaining in the single market after leaving the European Union, that “we will suffer potential penalties” Croatia scored their equaliser.

Did they nod it in? Hammer it home? Fire it in? Scramble it in? I don’t know. I didn’t see it.

That England’s World Cup semi-final should fall precisely 100 days before the Brexit deal is done is unfortunate news for anyone who has already booked the guests, the venue and printed the literature for their political panel event, 100 Days Until the Brexit Deal is Done.

Would anyone turn up? Would people say they were going to turn up and then not? Subscribers were asked and organisers were met with an angry response. “If you show the football I am not coming,” is not a direct quote but does sum up the spirit of the inbox.

Of the panel guests, only Andrea Leadsom had stipulated in advance that a screen showing the game in the green room was non-negotiable.

Promises on The Independent side, alas were not kept, but the sight of Jacob Rees-Mogg leaning over a coffee table covered in canapes to peer into Gina Miller’s husband’s iPhone screen shows, if nothing else, the power of national healing through football that Sir Gareth of Waistcoat had hoped for.

Once the contest was underway, Remain had the best of the early exchanges. Gina Miller was expressive, articulate. Dominic Grieve in the deep lying role was classy, but obdurate.

On the Brexit side, the pre-debate focus had all been on Rees-Mogg, but was this one step too far? World class, arguably, not so long ago, but questions are being asked as to whether oppositions have sussed him out, know how to get round him. Ever since, for example, telling various TV news channels that it “parliament cannot dictate the terms of Brexit to the government” and then, hours later, seeking to derail the prime minister’s Chequers deal through a series of parliamentary amendments, have caused some to wonder if the great man’s best days are gone.

It wasn’t long before tensions rose. “You should never have asked a very complex question to the people of Britain,” Gina Miller said, almost jabbing her finger in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face. “You should never have done it.”

The crowd’s blood was up too. From the third row, the word “liar” was audibly muttered. But the referee, The Independent’s political editor Joe Watts, of course, stamped his authority on the contest in typically assured fashion.

If anything, the 100 Days debate serves as an unlikely guide for coping with life as an England football fan.

As the game moved into extra time, Dominic Grieve stared inquisitively into the eyes of Andrea Leadsom, as she elaborated on a brave new world of fruit picking robots.

As a nation’s ire rose against a Turkish referee, Chuka Umunna railed only against Vote Leave scaremongering tactics, also about Turks, as it happens.

It was, in the end, almost a form of bliss, to be alone with the only six people in the country that didn’t know the score.

As if the whole thing, perhaps, wasn’t happening. As if the clocks could go back and reality could have another go. As if the will of eleven Croatian people had never been expressed and we would not all have to live with the consequences.

Daylight came in on magic, in the end. Someone had texted Chuka Umunna. He whispered something to Andrea Leadsom. She grimaced. And that was that.

Still, at least there’s only Brexit to worry about now.