Published:

14 comments

When Theresa May is carried out of Downing Street for the last time, she will no doubt wish the process to be “as frictionless as possible”.

Meanwhile she promises us that after Brexit, we shall have “as frictionless trade as possible” with the European Union.

The Prime Minister must have repeated those words six or seven times during PMQs. They do not trip off the tongue, and occasionally she stumbled over them, but here was the line to take as MPs voiced the fears of manufacturers that their supply chains will be interrupted.

Jeremy Corbyn is not the first person to whom one would look for a defence of business. Nor is he the man to leap on the latest bandwagon, for he has been a faithful presence on the Bennite bandwagon since the 1970s, and has, indeed, enjoyed remarkable success over the last few years in getting that long stationary vehicle once more to roll.

But even Corbyn told the House that “business is entitled to be listened to with respect”, and attempted to embarrass the Prime Minister by pointing out that the Foreign Secretary, who was not present in the Chamber, had used “an Anglo-Saxon term” to attack business.

How wonderful, some of us thought, to have a holder of that great office who is not only capable of getting along in Latin, Greek and French, but can manage a word or two in Anglo-Saxon.

Could it be that Boris Johnson possesses that rarest thing in politics, the ability to communicate with the voters, many of whom speak Anglo-Saxon too? For there are a number of concepts which are popular outside Westminster and can only really be conveyed in Anglo-Saxon.

The Prime Minister finds it safer not to communicate. Her preference is for what Michael Cockerell, who has observed every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan, has identified as “the meaningless tautology”.

So “Brexit means Brexit means nothing”. And “as frictionless trade as possible” likewise means nothing, until we know what’s possible.

The Prime Minister could save time by abbreviating this aspiration to “Aftap”, but prefers to baffle enquiry by deploying the full, clumsy version.

She wishes also, one assumes, to run a Cabinet which is as frictionless as possible.

Unfortunately, as Clausewitz once warned, “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction, which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen war.”

And now we have friction in politics, and the spectacle of collective responsibility dissolving under the pressure of Brexit.

Perhaps, once May has a Brexit deal, she will have the authority to restore collective responsibility. If not, she will find herself playing the role which so few of her predecessors in Number Ten have avoided, namely scapegoat.

14 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: May’s meaningless tautology about Brexit baffles her critics

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.