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.

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