Joy Johnson: Tory incompetence over Brexit compounded by their heartlessness

The incompetence of this Tory government is so palpable it is almost embarrassing. It’s an incompetence compounded by a heartlessness to those least able to resist.

Chaos at the heart of the government’s approach to Brexit was accurately summed up by Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer at the despatch box; “What a mess, one thing one day another thing the next.”

This latest bout of incompetence was on show during David Davis’s appearance at the Brexit select committee.

Having to make Brexit a reality, after a tight 52/48result, despite the bluster of Brexiters that this is some enormous mandate, must be a tough job. Perhaps we should be a little bit more sympathetic when he is put under the spotlight by those who want to remain in the EU.

Davis was riffing on how the EU always leaves decisions until the 59th minute of the 11th hour when Seema Malhotra asked whether that meant Parliament may not get to vote on any Brexit deal until after Brexit has occurred.

“It could be, yeah,” said Mr Davis. “It depends when it concludes.” So it could be after 29 March 2019, the day the UK ceases to be a member of the EU? “It could be,” Mr Davis agreed. “It can’t come before we have the deal.”

Astonishing miscalculation

His answers were startling. How could he make such an astonishing political miscalculation?

Maybe he was tired. Sleepless nights from flip flopping between a hard or soft Brexit deals.

Maybe the devout Brexiters are taking their toll. It certainly can’t be easy having MPs who have dedicated their political careers to pulling us out of the EU, a few benches behind. Politicians such as the ever present John Redwood, or Iain Duncan Smith who are ready to pounce at the merest hint that any deal might not be the severest that it could be.

Maybe having to hold yet another press conference with EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, is becoming just too humiliating.

Or maybe the case is that the forensic onslaught by his opposite number is exposing his inability to do the job. Whatever it is, the truth is they don’t deserve any sympathy.

This referendum was self-inflicted with Elastoplast tape being used to close the wound as and when necessary. Davis wasn’t just indulging in speculation. This wasn’t a gaffe when he said Parliament wouldn’t be able to vote until after we’d left. It only becomes so when the answer backfires.

Theresa May who already weakened by her loss of authority and her majority along with Davis’s press spokesman had to ride to the rescue to ‘clarify’. Humiliation heaped on humiliation.

You’ll remember the cry of the ‘Brexiters’ that the Mother of Parliaments would once again be sovereign. Sovereign when it suited their argument. Treated with contempt when it doesn’t just as it is with the Henry VIII power grab.

That final vote has become to some their final hope of scuppering the legislation. You could say the final act on the final day.

Untold misery

I started with this government’s heartlessness and it is there in plain sight as universal credit is causing untold misery.

Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Question Time a couple of Wednesday’s ago majored on the enormous cost to claimants seeking help from the ‘help line’. An Orwellian phrase if ever there was one.

Corbyn and his team inflicted a defeat when the work and pensions secretary David Gauke announced that the 55p a minute would be changed to a Freephone number.

A quarter of new claimants don’t receive their first full payment within six weeks. Switching to a free phone is morally right but as Jeremy told the Prime Minister the fundamental problems of universal credit remain. The six week wait, rising debt, rent arrears and evictions.

Despite the obvious problems with the implementation of the wretched universal credit the Prime Minister refused Labour calls to pause the roll out.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has the dubious honour of provoking the ire of Lord Lawson who called for his resignation because according to Lawson ‘he was sabotaging Brexit’. Today’s Tory party is at war over Europe.

Labour will keep up the pressure on the Conservative leadership not only on Brexit but on the housing crisis, the pay cap, the NHS, the lack of an industrial strategy the list goes on.

We are in a permanent campaign mode. There is plenty to campaign on.

I’d like to finish this column by paying tribute to a giant of the trade union movement, Rodney Bickerstaffe. His powerful advocacy of the minimum wage brought about a real and lasting change to people lives. He will be greatly missed.

This column first appeared in Tribune.