Parliament is in the grip of turmoil as never before

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The shambolic chaos that's surrounded Brexit for months has suddenly morphed into something approaching panic or hysteria.

People, whether for or against Brexit, have suddenly realised that the critical vote on the Prime Minister’s much-maligned deal is now only hours away.

Theresa May herself has warned of catastrophe if her deal is rejected - which at the time of writing seems likely. And those opposed to it use no less vivid and scary language about the state of the nation if it is passed.

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Meanwhile, groups of hostile and conspiratorial MPs are meeting in shadowy corners plotting to do the Government down if they can. And Sir John Major, who is bitterly opposed to Brexit, says there is no happy ending to falling off a cliff.

Chris MoncrieffChris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

In short, Parliament is in the grip of turmoil as never before. A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister is expected if her plan fails. And there is talk that the furniture removers could be moving into 10 Downing Street before the end of the week.

A momentous week lies ahead for Westminster. And a nerve-wracking one for the Prime Minister personally. I trust Mr May will have a large Scotch at the ready for her in case of emergencies.

Is Commons Speaker John Bercow a hero of Parliament, or a serious pain in the neck? Bercow has attracted admiration and fury in equal measure for allowing a pro-Remainer amendment, which seriously depletes the Government’s authority over dealing with Brexit if the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated on Tuesday.

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No other Speaker within living memory has endured such a rocky ride. His impartiality has been questioned and he has been openly accused of siding with Remainers at the expense of the Government, while he and his supporters claim he is merely trying to protect the interests of back-benchers.

A motion of no confidence in the prime minister is expected if her Brexit plan fails today. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA WireA motion of no confidence in the prime minister is expected if her Brexit plan fails today. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire
A motion of no confidence in the prime minister is expected if her Brexit plan fails today. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire

He has not surrendered an inch in the face of some of the ferocious barrage of criticism aimed at him, insisting that he is not usurping his authority and continually expressing his conviction: “I am right.”

And although he is said to have ignored the advice of parliamentary clerks, Bercow has now acquired the support of Jeremy Corbyn.

Whether he can sustain the level of criticism he has attracted remains to be seen. But he has certainly made his mark on the chair - even if his critics regard that mark as a blot.

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“The law is a ass, a idiot”. Those immortal words, uttered by Mr Bumble in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, could hardly be better exemplified than in the bizarre case of the so-called ‘speedboat killer’ Jack Shepherd, whose vessel capsized on the River Thames and his companion, Charlotte Brown died in the water.

He was charged with manslaughter, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. But he broke the terms of his bail (itself an imprisonable offence) and disappeared before the trial ended - it nevertheless went ahead in his absence.

It is beyond belief that the law allows him to appeal against conviction despite being a criminal fugitive from the law. What is even more breathtaking is that he can use pub money in the form of legal aid to pursue his appeal. “Monstrous” is the word I’d used for it.

But that’s not the half of it. On top of all that, one of the lawyers has said that it is not his job to help the police. Who are these snooty lawyers who think they are a cut above the rest of us? It is, in my opinion, the duty of us all to help the police where we can. Confidentiality between solicitor and client must surely take second place to doing one’s public duty.

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It would be a good thing if Parliament could spare a moment from Brexit to close up some of these glaring loopholes. Mr Bumble was right: “The law is a ass.”

I confess to being surprised - even in these ultra-feminist days - that Fiona Bruce was awarded the coveted job of hosting the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme. I would have put my money on Nick Robinson, the BBC’s former political editor, being given the job.

However, I am happy to concede that Bruce’s maiden stint on the programme last week was hugely impressive.

Admittedly, she did permit some dreadful bores in the audience to drone on for far too long, but that can easily be remedied in future programmes.

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But the high point for me was when Bruce commented: “If this is the government being in control, what does out of control look like?” Brilliant!

Good luck to her.

Last word on Brexit: French statesman, Charles de Gaulle, said that politics was far too important a matter to be left to politicians. I agree. And I reckon that if the Brexit negotiations had been conducted by hard-headed, no-nonsense captains of industry, the whole thing would have been done and dusted ages ago: No divas, no flouncing out, no melodramas.