Minister for absolute clarity muddies the Brexit waters

There were just two people in the Vote Leave office when the phone rang shortly before 8.20am, the intern on work experience and Priti Patel, the employment minister. The intern had one job and one job only: to make sure Priti wasn’t allowed anywhere near the phone. He failed.

“Let me be absolutely clear,” Priti bellowed into the mouthpiece.

“It’s Mishal Husain from the Today programme. We’d like someone from Vote Leave to comment on your spending pledges …”

“Let me be absolutely clear,” Priti continued, slightly alarmed that the intern had started banging his head against the wall. “I am very happy to talk to you about taking back control.”

“That’s very kind of you,” said Mishal. “But it’s not really very helpful. Is there anyone else around?”

“Not now the intern is unconscious.”

“Ah well. Since you’re here, perhaps you can tell me how Vote Leave proposes to honour its spending commitments?”

“Let me be absolutely clear, we are going to take back control of our own money and then spend it on things we want to...

“That’s great, Priti,” Mishal interrupted. “I hear you, I really do. But what I actually asked was on what authority you are making these commitments? Surely it’s only the government that can do that.”

“Let me be absolutely clear, we are the government …”

“Er, no. You’re not.”

“Let me be absolutely clear are you sure you’re clear about this? I could have sworn Boris and Govey told me we were the government and that I was in the cabinet.”

“Let’s start again from the beginning,” said Mishal, realising her interview was unexpectedly turning into comedy gold. “How can you guarantee that all those who currently receive EU funding will get the same money if we leave?”

“Let me be absolutely clear,” Priti replied, with rather more confidence than was warranted. “We are currently giving money to the EU and they tell us how to spend it. Once we have taken back control of our money we will be free to choose to spend it on exactly the same things as the EU spend it on. Let me be absolutely clear, this is what taking back control is all about.”

“Can we put some numbers on this?” Mishal continued, sounding every bit the funeral director encouraging a punter to dig her own grave. “Assuming there is no economic downturn, you will have at best a net figure of £161m to spend each week.”

“Let me be absolutely clear, I’m sure it’s more like £350m because that’s what’s on the bus.”

“I did say it was a net figure,” Mishal explained. Priti started doing sums on her fingers before giving up when she realised she only had around five on each hand. Give or take. “You have said you will spend £100m per week and cut VAT on fuel. Is that a guarantee?”

“Let me be absolutely clear. We have said that we will spend £100m per week on the NHS and cut VAT on fuel and we can be absolutely clear that we guarantee that.”

“I see,” said Mishal. “But at various times you’ve also promised to spend money on improving roads, creating more school places and cutting taxes. How are you going to pay for everything out of £161m?”

“Let me absolutely clear,” Priti interrupted tartly. “We never made any promises about spending money. We just said there was a range of things that we could spend money on that might include the NHS and a cut in fuel duty …”

“Vote Leave has been very specific on some of its spending commitments...”

“Let me be absolutely clear. The things we said we were absolutely clear about were options. And the ones that weren’t options were choices. And the ones that don’t fall into either of those categories are possibilities that might possibly happen. Is that absolutely clear?”

“So what you seem to be saying is that your commitments are just vague ideas that have been dangled in front of the electorate.”

“Let me be absolutely clear about this, I love farming so farmers will definitely be getting some money. And I love scientists and Wales too …”

“And the NHS, fuel duty cuts, school places and roads?”

“Let me be absolutely clear, I absolutely adore them all and they will all be getting money, even if there isn’t any.”

“One last question, minister. Even Vote Leave believes there will be a downturn in the economy in the event of Brexit. How would your government in exile deal with that?”

“Let me be absolutely clear. As long as we take back control and I’m in charge of the money then everyone will have just as much as they do now.”

As the interview ended Priti was absolutely clear that somewhere in the Vote Leave offices someone was playing the Sex Pistols. “You’re so Priti, Oh so Priti. You’re Vacant.”

Powered by article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Tuesday 14th June 2016 16.59 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010