Parliament a place of fear and loathing after debate

“I’m not sure that we can look the nation in the eye and say that was a good day.” That’s how a Conservative MP has described the torrid scenes in the Commons in the last 24 hours.

Did the prime minister alight on the frustration of many members of the public who may feel that Parliament has simply failed to keep the promise it made to carry out their wishes expressed in the referendum – yes.

Did Boris Johnson confirm his determination to push on with keeping the vow he made to take the UK out of the EU at the end of next month – yes.

But did the scenes in Parliament suggest that his determination tips into a potentially destructive disdain – yes, to that too.

Boris Johnson’s decision has long been clear – he would seek to use everything within his grasp to stick to the Brexit deadline he set.

If that meant knocking some plaster off the ceiling, rattling some cages in a fractious and perhaps failing Parliament, so be it.

It is not as if, his allies argue, this Parliament has any measurable or reliable level of support from the public at large.

Their calculation is that swathes of voters, whatever they chose in 2016, have simply had enough of MPs’ inability to decide.

After three years of political strife, following a clear, if narrow, result in the referendum, it is of course the case there are plenty of voters who blame politicians collectively for the mess we all witness.

So, as Boris Johnson and Number 10 have been obviously doing since taking office, Parliament’s failure is a political target.

Whatever you think of that interpretation, for most of tonight’s debate, this still relatively new prime minister was combatively, precisely on his chosen message.

Accordingly, he decided to stir his benches with rancour rather than make any effort to soothe nerves on all sides, let alone show remorse for his defeat.

Yet, even for a politician whose tactics include provocation, it is worth asking if he went too far.

up the rhetoric in responses to questions – suggesting first that it was “humbug” for a Labour MP to demand he temper his language, to try to protect MPs’ safety.

Then, he went on to say that the appropriate legacy for the MP who was murdered during the referendum, Jo Cox, was for MPs to complete the Brexit process.

No surprise that Labour MPs howled in protest, some left the Commons in disbelief.

And there may be few Tory MPs willing, as the day goes on, to defend how far he went.

The cabinet minister Nicky Morgan too, who expressed her concern on Twitter, is not the only Tory MP who was unhappy at what happened.

There is pushback from the other side, of course.

One minister said, in sadness rather than anger, that Labour was deploying “double standards” after several years of calling the Leave side “racists and criminals”.

There should be no surprise there was reaction like this.

Others in government believe that we are seeing the raw conflict that had to play out, the fight Theresa May delayed but couldn’t make disappear.

And, rightly or wrongly, politics moves so fast in this era, it’s impossible to tell if tonight’s cries of horror in SW1 will fade fast to nothing, or indeed, how far they have reached beyond Westminster’s bubble.

As ever, forgive but note the caveat that the situation is ever shifting and could transform within days.

For now, though, it is almost impossible to imagine this group of politicians being able to agree on much.

The attitude Boris Johnson displayed has made the divisions more stark.

And in the unlikely event this prime minister strikes a deal, it seems harder in this moment to imagine that he’d have more than a handful of Labour MPs on side.

And if you were hoping that, eventually, our politicians were moving towards a way of working together, Parliament tonight was a place of fear and loathing, not a place of debate and discussion that could provide a solution for us all.


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