Same time, same place, same speech. The humiliation is now almost complete. Five times David Davis has come back to the Commons to report on the progress of his talks with Michel Barnier, and on each occasion the Brexit secretary has had little to say.
In the early days, he used to claim that the lack of progress was a sign of how much progress had been made, but now he has lost the will to even bluster. The former SAS man has barely got the strength to fight his way out of a paper bag.
Throughout his five-minute statement, Davis could barely bring himself to raise his eyes towards the opposition benches. The contempt he could have taken. But it was the pity that got him every time. Some important steps had been made, he said in a barely audible mumble. He couldn’t say exactly what they were but they had been made. The negotiations were being conducted in a good spirit. As in, no one had actually walked out yet. But he was reaching the limits of what was possible.
Realising Davis was on the verge of mental and physical disintegration, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to finish Davis off for good, but neither could he afford to let him off the hook entirely. Rather, he acted as a therapist. He understood Davis’s pain but he had to be aware that it was he who had agreed to the sequencing of the talks so he could hardly blame the EU for sticking to it. If we weren’t ready to negotiate, why had we triggered article 50?
At this point, Davis looked like he might burst into tears. Starmer backtracked a little. Maybe he had been overdoing the tough love. Yes, there had been some acceleration since the prime minister’s Florence speech. From 2mph to 4mph. And that was to be applauded. It really was. But now was the time to aim just a little higher. Maybe go all out and see if he could creep up to 6mph. And while he was about it, could he drop the fantasy that no deal was better than a bad deal?
This was a step too far for Davis. There was only so much reality he could take at any one time. Vulnerability gave way to aggression. “All he does is carp,” he said tetchily, putting on and taking off his glasses with increasing neurotic energy. “He never comes up with any solutions of his own.” In his fugue state, Davis had now apparently forgotten that it was the government’s responsibility to dig itself out of the hole it had created. “It’s not true that I talked up a no deal,” he added. He just hadn’t made any effort to talk one down.
There was some respite for Davis from his own benches. Almost exclusively from the likes of Bill Cash, Owen Paterson and Richard Drax, who are even more deluded than he is over Brexit. Shouldn’t we seriously consider the no deal option? Davis nodded his head vigorously. The cunning Europeans were using the negotiations to get as much money as they could out of us. Worryingly, it sounded as if this thought had only just occurred to him. Sometimes, he really isn’t that bright.
The Labour benches tried to bring Davis back to reality. Business needed certainty, not a cliff edge brought about by government incompetence and infighting. It’s a measure of just how out of whack the Tories have become that Labour is now the official voice of business. Several MPs quoted key reports that had just been published on the damaging effects of Brexit on the economy.
Fake news, Davis screamed. He was sick to death of so-called experts in the pay of the Russians and the EU talking down the British economy. The economy was actually in a far better state now than it had been at any time since lunchtime the day before. So what if inflation was rising at 3%? La, la, la.
Everything was going to be just fine. Trust him. Even a no deal wouldn’t be so bad; once everyone had gone broke, things could only get better. And besides, it was even possible that the EU council might surprise everyone by agreeing to progress the talks on Friday. Though highly unlikely if it had spent the last 45 minutes listening to him slagging it off.
There wasn’t anything more to be said after that mini-rant so the session ended earlier than expected. In any case, it was time for Davis to take his medication. The men in white coats were ready and waiting.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010