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Emily Thornberry, who was standing in for Jeremy Corbyn, thinks we have “a Government treading water in the Niagara River while the current is carrying us over the Falls.”

If that is true, she did not sound anything like desperate enough. Thornberry has the clear, upper-middle-class enunciation of an old-fashioned Radio Four announcer.

There was not a trace of panic in her voice, because she does not actually believe we are being swept to our doom.

David Lidington, deputising for the Prime Minister during her visit to Northern Ireland, sounded as if he too does not think we are all about to drown.

Lidington wondered, in a calm tone, what part of the proposed Brexit deal “does the Right Honourable Lady actually object to?”

She said she was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions, and accused the Government of “sleepwalking the country towards leaving with no plan and no deal”.

Can one sleepwalk at the same time as one treads water in the Niagara River? For Thornberry to muddle her metaphors was, one felt, a confession of failure.

The Father of the House, Kenneth Clarke, suggested that if it was left to Lidington and Thornberry, “it would take them about five minutes” to come up with a way of “smoothly” leaving the European Union. For they would between them be able to “stop being so dominated by Corbynistas and the European Reform Group”.

This threat that each of the two main parties might split on Brexit is one reason why a new tone of moderation, even of compromise, has become apparent.

Few MPs want to take the risk of taking the country over what could turn out to be, if not the Niagara Falls, at least some rather bumpy rapids where there is an outside risk of some of the passengers getting hurt.

As Clarke said, Lidington and Thornberry both want to find a safer way through. Just as Donald Tusk gets over-excited, the House of Commons is calming down.

19 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Thornberry claims we are being swept over the Niagara Falls

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