The corridors and anterooms of the Palace of Westminster are filled with paintings of great men on the Commons terrace.
Keir Hardie lingers behind Edward Grey as a silent drum beats lead the march to war. The monocled eye of Joseph Chamberlain meets the narrow horizon, his placid countenance concealing a heart of beaten metal.
Where they stand Claude Monet once gazed, brush in hand, through fog and sun.
Their ghosts lingered in the golden light of morning, as from the east there came a vessel, its colours fluttering on the still wind. Desmond Swayne MP was here, carrying two miniature polypropylene Union Flags, to mark its arrival with a growl. So had William Wragg MP, but having made less of an effort on the props front, could only give visual voice to love of country through the exultant waggling of his House of Commons order paper.
And there, on this hallowed dawn, beneath this vaunted balcony of history, Nigel Farage tipped two crates of haddock into the river Thames.
At least 50 journalists and photographers had gathered to bear witness. They saw their scaled bodies bent in sacrifice, these slippery martyrs of Brexit.
They had died so that a nation might live. They had placed their fishy heads in the mouth of the EU lion.
On Monday, you see, they had been betrayed. The draft text of the Brexit “transition agreement” had been published, and it appeared that post-Brexit Britain would not be gaining full autonomy over its fishing waters until 31 December 2020, not 31 March 2019. The UK’s fishing industry, whose total contribution to the British economy is slightly smaller than that of the pet insurance sector, would have to toil under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for 19 long months more.
This, of course, was an outrage. And just as it is said that men and women in cities are never more than six feet from a rat, wherever there is outrage you are never more than six feet from Nigel Farage.
But not all had been as brave as Nigel. Deliberately dumping two crates of haddock in the Thames is an act of questionable legality, you see. So while Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP and Craig Mackinlay MP were happy to call the TV cameras to Embankment Pier at 8am to pledge their support to the UK’s suffering fishermen, they weren’t going to actually, you know, take part. They weren’t going to actually get in the little boat and chug up the Thames to upturn two coolboxes of fish into the river beneath Big Ben. Because that, that would be mad.
That all did not go to plan will not surprise anyone. At first, the faceless British bureaucrats of Transport for London refused the boat permission to dock at Embankment Pier, their entirely unreasonable behaviour a consequence of Embankment Pier being an everyday commuter pier where normal people go to catch a boat to work, and none of the protest admin people had, you know, got round to asking for permission.
It left this tiny vessel of flag-waving Brexiteers with nowhere to go. No route on, no route off. It moved in an aquatic holding pattern, sweeping into shore to be filmed and photographed then sweeping out again. HMS Brexit was all at sea. The up-creek-no-paddle impact assessments had not been done.
But once the fish had been dumped, the picture secured, the unending state of national lunacy restored, no one cared. Messrs Swayne and Wragg took themselves off in the direction of the House of Commons and Prime Minister’s Questions. It may even still be out there now.
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