If there is anyone out there who still thinks the EU referendum isn’t worth getting excited about, well then they can’t have been at the headquarters of a railway parts manufacturer in Chippenham on Tuesday, and they can’t have been tuned in to BBC Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
“‘We will never be part of Schengen!" thundered the Prime Minister. "We will never be part of the euro! Never be part of a European superstate! That is the prize we are fighting for!” It was the second time he had said the words in as many days, and he left the House of Commons no less electrified than the factory floor that had been shut down especially for his visit the day before.
To channel simultaneously the oratory spirit of Barack Obama and the Reverend Ian Paisley is a commendable feat. When history asks, he knows that he responded with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: No we won’t.
David Cameron knows that, if it goes wrong, the EU Referendum will define him.
The fight on his hands is against nothing less than the full might of the British Empire, which in 2016 fortunately only consists of the twelve or so Conservative backbenchers who remain unaware that it has ceased to be.
It’s not all their fault. When you emerge from the womb a fully formed 45 year old Tory MP, as Jacob Rees Mogg once did, you can be forgiven for never quite comprehending that it is no longer 1867, and that Britannia no longer rules the waves. “The Prime Minister has a fortnight to save his reputation as a negotiator,” he warned him starkly, inadvertently outlining the conceit for what could be the most tedious TV boxset series in history.
Sir Nicholas Soames turned up and sat in the front row seat directly below the gangway once favoured by his grandfather Winston Churchill, his Schiaparelli pink socks the only indication he hadn’t wandered in straight off the set of Downton Abbey.
Normal people might be struggling to keep up with who is no longer speaking to whom in the rolling Judean People’s Front Tribute Act that make up the various outlets of the Out campaign, so it was generous of the four MPs who may themselves struggle to remember they form the 'Grassroots Out' campaign to brand themselves with their own luminous green ties for the occasion. Peter Bone even produced one from his pocket and offered it to the Prime Minister. It stayed where it was.
The first of their number called to speak was Philip Davies, a man better known for his tireless crusade against political correctness gone mad and, as a younger man, filibustering the kitchen empty at house parties.
Mr Davies wanted to know whether the UK should be able to get out of paying the EU £19bn a year when it contributes £65bn in trade. “I’m sure that will be an important part of the debate to come,” the Prime Minister told him, which came as a surprise to those who had imagined that, what with there being several hundred people assembled in the House of Commons, that debate might actually be happening right now. If Mr Davies expected an answer to his question, it was his own fault for seeking election to Parliament and not merely masquerading as a lathe operator in Wiltshire the day before.
That 27 year old Tom Pursglove's first furtive grasps around the base of the greasy pole were as Peter Bone's researcher might explain his commitment to Grassroots Out. Pursglove is a chap who could look out of place in almost any situation, but never moreso than when wearing a radioactive neck tie that confirms him of the holder of opinions that became unfashionable some time in the decade before his birth. His stature in Grassroots Out is a matter of personal perception. Certainly he does not carry the same political gravitas as the likes of one time Asda middle manager Davies, or black pudding superfood campaigner David Nuttall, but he is at least the only one among them who can claim to have performed a dirty protest at the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty
With ‘emergency brakes’, and direction of travel to contend with, it was no surprise the most tortured metaphor contest was keenly fought. Sir Edward Leigh and John Redwood were united in their fear of an emergency brake that the driver couldn’t use, though they disagreed on where the backseat driver was sitting, whether he had access to the pedals, and how hard to press them.
But the grand master was Andrew Bridgen, of North West Leicestershire “The German captain of the ship that is the European Union has steered it into a migration iceberg,” he began. “Rather than rearranging the deckchairs, would it not be better to direct the British people to the available lifeboat while the band is still playing?”
How pleased he was with himself when he sat down. The giant migrant iceberg will kill us all. We’ll drown and die. Except that they’re the ones drowning and dying, aren’t they?
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