Brexit, Paternity Tests and Poor Old Boris
As the Labour Party Conference is in full swing (24 September-27 Wednesday) in Brighton, Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticised Theresa May’s government and the handling of the Brexit negotiations, before attacking “poor old Boris.”
In Brighton, Thornberry spoke to Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) radio presenter, Shelagh Fogarty, and explained Labour’s decision not to hold a vote on Brexit. Labour, Thornberry said, were determined to take Britain out of the EU, but given the current situation and the government’s failure to achieve a breakthrough in the ongoing Brexit negotiations, they supported the possibility of an extended period of time where a clearer and stronger negotiating plan is developed. She said: “Given the pig's ear the government is making of the Article 50 negotiations, we said we had to keep the status quo for at least the next couple of years while we negotiate properly. That's what we said. Of all the blather coming out of Theresa May in Florence the one thing that she said that was clear, was that she thought that was a good idea and she would agree with the Labour party. I know that we're in opposition but it sometimes feels like we're in government."
Thornberry reiterated that the Labour party was putting “the economy first” when it came to the negotiations, and they were “approaching this [Brexit] in a grownup manner rather than spending our time fighting amongst ourselves being unable to work out what it is we want for the European Union to be able to deliver because that’s what the Tories are doing.”
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer talking to the conference yesterday also highlighted Labour’s position as a flexible party that respected the democratic vote of the referendum. He said that instead of drawing “rash ideological red lines,” in the process of the negotiations, Labour agreed to accept the referendum result while prioritising the economy and trade in the Brexit talks. Like Thornberry, Starmer said that Labour’s approach to Brexit is “grown-up” and “pragmatic,” unlike the Tories who, according to him, are “joyriding” the economy “off a cliff-edge.”
Starmer said: "We are also flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new single market relationship or working up from a bespoke trade deal," he added. "The outcome is what matters."
The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who was accompanied by a bodyguard at the Labour conference after being abused online for her treatment of Corbyn, said that at the Labour conference the Corbyn-backing group Momentum organised members in such a way as to avoid Brexit-related talks. Kuennsberg wrote that Corbyn’s Achilles heel is the subject of Brexit and that within the party there were supporters of the single market and continuing freedom of movement which contradicted the main position of Corbyn’s party. Discussing Corbyn’s perspective on Brexit in juxtaposition with his party’s dissenting voices would have undermined the overall image of the party and of Corbyn’s leadership.
Fathers of Brexit
Brexit was fathered by different men, among them perhaps the proudest father of all Nigel Farage. Farage, who is the former Ukip leader and Brexit veteran, has retired from the front line of Brexiteering in order to observe political developments from his £4m house in Chelsea. But perhaps the most enduring voice of Brexit, is that of the Foreign Secretary, who remains visible, current, and at times, the centre of too much attention.
During the Labour party conference and a Brexit debate, Emily Thornberry chose to use the mascot of Brexit, the aforementioned poor Boris, to ridicule the Tory party and the handling of the negotiations. “He’s not been happy lately,” Thornberry said, since he is being blamed for Brexit and the broken promises of the Leave campaign.
Emily Thornberry is known for her irreverent humour, fun personality and, of course, cackle. She has the power of a rhetorician who remains unapologetic, defying bland talk and preferring to challenge than confirm one’s opinions. Talking in a Brexit debate, she compared Boris to a father who sired an illegitimate offspring during an extramarital affair.
Thornberry said: “I know that Boris doesn’t like paternity tests but maybe we need one for Brexit. Maybe we should take him into a studio with Jeremy Kyle. I’m sorry Mr Johnson we got the results back and it looks like this one is one of yours. It must have been that wild night out he had with Michael Gove. And I’ve calculated your maintenance payments and that will be £350m a week.”
But as the Boris approach is losing momentum and Theresa May is gaining more control over her party, the EU is slowly warming up to the UK’s current attempts to compromise, especially after May’s Florence speech. As the European Council president Donald Tusk said after his meeting with May this afternoon, Britain has dropped its “cake-and-eat-it” approach to Brexit. Speaking in Downing Street to reporters, Tusk said he was feeling “cautiously optimistic,” after May’s Florence speech in which she adopted a “constructive and more realistic tone.” While “there is not sufficient progress yet,” it appears that May is on the right track. While Brexit might have been a masculine affair, full of muscular energy and the old spiced nostalgia of men of a certain age and class, Theresa May is showing that she can deliver. If Labour wants to catch up, they need to strengthen their collective voice and demolish the idolatrous icons of Corbyn.