It is time for intolerance of incompetence

Another day, another screw-up in government. Aside from the malice and selfishness which characterise many of our current crop of leaders, it is becoming increasingly clear how completely and utterly incompetent they are. We saw pretty stunning levels of incompetence during the election campaign this summer, when our Prime Minister could not muster up anything more creative or interesting than “strong and stable” for weeks on end. But what has been going on over the last few weeks has caused even cynical me to shake her head in disbelief.

The Home Office sends out hundreds of threatening letters to EU citizens in error. Nothing happens. A Tory whip sends out a sinister letter to vice chancellors of universities demanding information on Brexit-related teaching, providing the Daily Mail with yet another enemy of people, those pesky Remoaner Universities. This earns him a half-hearted rebuke, but nothing serious. Boris Johnson condemns a British national to a further five years in an Iranian prison by apparently not bothering to read his brief on the case, by fundamentally not understanding that when dealing with countries like Iran, every single word has to be carefully chosen and weighed up. Nothing happens. Priti Patel engages in arguably treasonous behaviour by embarking upon a series of unofficial meetings with high-level Israeli counterparts without telling Number 10 or the Foreign Office. She is allowed to resign from her cabinet post, but remains an MP.

I find it remarkable that when government ministers display unforgivable levels of incompetence, all that happens is that they resign from cabinet. Michael Fallon has been another case in point — though this was more about immoral behaviour than simply incompetence. Are we not to expect higher standards from our MPs as well? Why should I continue to be represented by someone who has shown themselves to be unfit for public office?

And then to the most absurd display of incompetence of recent weeks: David Davis and his sectoral impact assessments. He first tells us that there are 58 very detailed Brexit impact assessments prepared, which are so sensitive that releasing them to the public would damage our negotiating position in Brussels. Upon being compelled by parliament to release them, because his case for secrecy is about as flimsy as the rest of the Leave campaign’s argumentation, Davis tells us that “it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist.” Again, nothing really happens.

This is despite the fact that Davis is clearly misleading us because the assessments cannot exist and then suddenly not exist, unless they existed and were then forever shredded out of existence — which would make me seriously concerned about the contents. They must be so incendiary and undermining of the Brexit cause that they may no longer be allowed to continue to exist at all. It’s actually a perfect reflection of the way the government handles inconvenient truths these days: any facts that do not fit the Brexiter worldview are simply banished from existence, and if you speak of them then you are either a liar or a traitor to the country.

We are truly living in absurd times. In another pre-referendum world, any one of these displays of incompetence and disloyalty would have been met with a sacking or resignation, preferably from politics altogether. But Brexit has destabilised this government and the nation to such an extent that we must now tolerate this sheer incompetence, because losing half the cabinet in the space of a week really isn’t a good look.

And so Boris continues to embarrass us on the world stage and endanger British lives overseas, hardline Brexiters continue to put party over country, Davis continues to make a shambles of negotiations.

A responsible, competent government would have convened a cross-party panel of experts to establish a Brexit working group soon after the referendum. They would have worked out in detail what the likely impacts would be, what needed to be considered and resolved, and what we wanted from negotiations — if we decided to leave the EU at all. And then, only then, would the government have triggered Article 50.

Instead, the government continues to negotiate with itself instead of the EU, we are facing an EU ultimatum and a possible breakdown of talks, a leave date enshrined in law for no good reason and a growing threat of a no-deal exit with all the misery that will entail.

Davis’ assurances that we will have a “basic deal” on things such as aviation and radiation therapy show that he still does not understand that a deal with the EU is not just based on political will, which is in any case rapidly diminishing thanks to his incompetence and arrogance, it requires legal arrangements that need to be negotiated. The same goes for citizens’ rights and the Irish border, which are not simply mere technicalities that can be quickly resolved if everyone just tries a little harder.

It is time we stop tolerating this incompetence and demand a higher standard of skill and a stronger moral compass from our government and all of our MPs. Because this rot at the heart of Westminster will only make our nation poorer — in every sense of the word.

Recent DexEU response

Like many of you, I suspect, I was a lucky recipient of DexEU’s recent reply to a popular petition demanding a referendum on the final Brexit deal. I signed the petition mainly to register my protest at how the entire process is being handled, and less because I am adamant that there should be a second referendum — I would prefer our politicians to see sense before we ever reach this stage. I wanted to make the point that the way Brexit is being conducted is undermining our democracy and completely ignoring the wishes of those who wanted to remain, and even those who simply wanted a soft Brexit.

And the reply certainly lived up to my expectations of our current government — arrogant, blind, haughty, misinformed and with distinct authoritarian tendencies. What follows is a look at the text all signatories of the petition were sent — my favourite bits and my thoughts on this patronising and anger-inducing piece of garbage.

On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Really? Thanks for reminding me. I temporarily forgot about that.

The UK Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum.

Will you please just stop already with the “will of the people” nonsense?! Firstly, who are the people? Because last time I checked, an awful lot of the people voted to remain, and many others did not vote. Even more people were disenfranchised, especially overseas Britons, casting doubt on the validity of the entire exercise and certainly on the notion that this was the will of the “people.” And if you are referring to that slender majority of people who did vote, well even in that case, the “will of the people” is not an immutable, fixed thing. It changes over time. That’s the entire point of a democracy. Or, dear Tories, should we have a permanent Labour government with Tony Blair at the helm because that was the “will of the people” in 1997?

“… On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

You actually just said that a couple sentences ago, but thanks again for reminding me.

The referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history.

This is meaningless twaddle. That is because it was a choice between two things. The vote to remain was the second-largest democratic mandate in UK political history. But as has been made clear, that mandate does not matter to this government, the 48% are irrelevant.

In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

Yet more twaddle. In our wonderfully archaic electoral system, we essentially have a choice between two parties. It so happens that they are both led by anti-Europeans, and many pro-Europeans will have felt forced to vote Labour to keep the Tories from winning in their constituencies. It in no way follows that 85% of people support Brexit, this line of reasoning from DexEU is an obvious logical fallacy.

There must be no attempts to remain inside the European Union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum.

Wait. A. Minute. Is the UK still a democracy? Erm, I think so. So I can bloody well attempt to do anything I like. I can attempt to remain in the EU. I can attempt to rejoin it through the back door — or the front door, for that matter — and I can attempt to lobby for a second referendum. How dare you tell me what I can and cannot attempt to do? As long as my actions are legal, you have no right to stop me attempting anything. And I promise, should you be so foolish as to take us out of the EU, especially without a deal, we will keep attempting to rejoin the EU over the long haul. And that is my right. You can label me “unpatriotic” as much as you like, but you will not take this right away from me.

The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.

Did the country vote to leave the EU? I had just forgotten that so thanks for reminding me.

Rather than second guess the British peoples decision to leave the European Union, the challenge now is to make a success of it – not just for those who voted leave but for every citizen of the United Kingdom, bringing together everyone in a balanced approach which respects the decision to leave the political structure of the EU but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

As parliamentarians, it is your duty to second guess the referendum result. Blindly accepting it and pushing the decision through without any real debate and any proper planning, regardless of the devastating consequences, is a dereliction of this duty.

A balanced approach? You have got to be kidding. Serious talk of a no-deal Brexit is not a balanced approach. You have never taken the concerns of Remainers on board, you have relentlessly made us feel like second-class citizens and traitors of the country. You have referred to our neighbours, allies and partners as “the enemy.” Do not insult my intelligence by pretending you are taking a balanced approach.

Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50 As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the Government is determined to see through that instruction.

Did the people vote to leave the EU? You are right to remind me, because I am very stupid indeed and had forgotten this fact since the last time you mentioned it. The truly frightening thing about this particular section is that it says that no matter what happens, no matter how bad this Brexit thing gets, no matter how devastating the consequences for Britain, we will carry on with it because “the people voted to leave.” We simply no longer have the right to change our minds or ask for a change in direction. That sounds an awful lot like authoritarianism to me.

Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU. We aim to get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people here at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.

Argh! I had again forgotten that the people had voted to leave the EU. Thanks again for reminding me DexEU! You are such a good friend for making sure I don’t forget this important thing. I mean, I am liable to forget the event that this entire omnishambolic mess is based on.

A country that is stronger? The World Bank has predicted that a no-deal Brexit will see UK trade in goods plummet by 50% and by a staggering 62% in services. In this world, how on earth will the UK be stronger? We are already weaker as a result of Brexit, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

A country that is fairer? Being a member of the EU guaranteed our basic rights to things such as paid holiday and maternity leave. It ensured we upheld basic environmental standards. It did not stop the British government from adopting policies that would have helped to reduce inequalities: a failure of domestic politics has made our society unfair. And leaving the EU will only make this worse, as we inevitably end up having to dismantle our system of rights and standards to be able to compete economically.

A country that is more united? I can barely dignify this with a response. We are more divided than ever. Theresa May could have come to power promising to heal the divides caused by the referendum, but every day her government has been in office, their rhetoric has only increased these divides. Hate crimes have soared since the referendum, in the permissive environment that it created. And don’t get me started on the issue of the Irish border.

More outward-looking? Sorry while I step out for a moment to have a good laugh. In my lifetime, we have never been more inward-looking. Major global issues are being debated and resolved without our presence. We no longer speak for Europe on the UN Security Council, as that role has now fallen to France. We have no bandwidth to conduct creative foreign policy because every bit of resource is consumed by mitigating the fallout from Brexit. Foreign talent is leaving the island in droves. Jobs are being relocated to the continent. More outward-looking?!

Department for Exiting the European Union

DexEU, your words are nothing but empty promises and platitudes. Please stop lying to me. Stop patronising me. Stop telling me to shut up and put up. Because I won’t, because you are ruining my country and I won’t sit idly by and let it happen.