Boris Johnson’s humiliation by Ed Miliband was the culmination of a lifetime of lies about the EU

Fat-tongued, slack-jawed, wide-eyed and wobbling, Boris Johnson sat on the front bench of the House of Commons and faced down his inevitable humiliation with the kind of dignity only he can.

As Ed Miliband calmly filleted and laid out before him one by one, each of the many lies that had led him here, he could do nothing but shake his head and force short, breathy, performative grunts from his nose. As he did so his jowls became tremulous like the wattle on a magnificent frigatebird.

Maybe he knew that it was his life’s work that had led him here. Lying about the European Union was how a young Boris Johnson made his name, 35 years ago, as Brussels Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. And lying about the European Union will shortly be how he loses it.  

It almost doesn’t matter that, moments before, he’d been standing there, prime minister of his country, jabbing his finger forward, claiming that, “the European union seriously believe they have the power to break up our country”.

They don’t have that power. Indeed, the only person with such a power would appear to be Boris Johnson, though he appears to have discharged it by accident.

Few people take this guff seriously anymore. Indeed, the whole point of this, the most execrable of all the execrable Brexit nights in the House of Commons in five long, miserable years, was for Boris Johnson to introduce actual legislation to ensure that nobody could ever possibly take him seriously ever again.

The bare reality hardly demands a simile. Nine months ago, Boris Johnson brokered the withdrawal agreement with the European Union, purged his party of anyone who didn’t support it, called a general election to ensure it could be passed and won by miles.

Now he is compelling those same MPs not merely to break the law, but break the promise he compelled them to make to their voters, because he has decided he no longer likes the terms of his own agreement.

If a simile must be deployed, very few are available. All I can think of is a tale from a stag do I happened to attend 15 years ago, in which the stag had become very drunk and was blaming his own “boring” friends for the fact he was back in the hotel by 10.30pm. It is still not entirely known from where a roll of duct tape was procured, but what is not disputed is that said stag wound himself up in it in protest and went to bed.

In the morning, on waking taped, and by this point with the curtains somehow also involved, naturally the rest of the party would be blamed for “taking things too far”.

This, inevitably, is where we are with Brexit, with the exception that this time it is the world that is watching, and not merely the night manager of the Portsmouth Premier Inn.

Ed Miliband was hardly even required to point out the absurdity of t he occasion, but he did so anyway, patiently explaining how each of the various defences that had been offered in the past week for the government’s intention to legislate to break the law were all equally ridiculous.

In the past week, Johnson has written an article for the Telegraph, other cabinet ministers have given press interviews, seeking to explain how the withdrawal agreement is, in fact, not merely a threat to break up the UK, but also a threat to the Good Friday Agreement.

What is unfortunate is that this week of bullsh*t is set against an entire election campaign, which was strategically whittled down to a single issue, to the towering virtues of this great, “oven-ready deal”. Whatever is said about Northern Ireland now, is not what was said about Northern Ireland nine months ago. Nine months ago it was “a great deal for Northern Ireland”. Now it is the EU threatening Northern Ireland with food shortages.

Did he understand it? Had he even read it? In answer to all these questions, Johnson could only manage to drop his shoulders and let out a hammy huff, as if somehow trying to spit his own tongue out on to floor of the commons like a spent wodge of chewing tobacco.

Trailing in Johnson’s execrable wake came the usual execrable suspects. Bill Cash was on his feet, never more furiously angry, though this time with himself. The withdrawal agreement he campaigned for, signed for was in fact the EU’s attempt to turn us into “a neutered trivial Lilliput, an enslaved economic satellite”.

Oh that transformation is very much complete, and it is not the EU’s doing. Watching a parliamentarian of five decades howl into the stuffy air about the absolutely direct, eminently foreseeable and permanently forewarned consequences of his actions is as Lilliputian as it gets. The smallest man of his political generation, shrinking all the way to the bitter end.

Bernard Jenkin was there too, breezily explaining how, “the UK made a mistake in signing the withdrawal agreement”. That it would only be through tearing it up now that other nations would come to respect us.

Of course, Brexit was always moving toward this kind of ending, though perhaps none of us foresaw it being quite this surreal. The Brexiteers, standing in the House of Commons, their victory complete, their sovereignty restored, transposing their own crushing stupidity on to the European Union then shouting at it in anger.

As it happens, it took that stag more than 10 years to complete his climb down, to fully admit to 100 per cent of the blame.

That’ll never happen with Brexit of course. Even 10 years needs an ounce of shame to get it going. But it is increasingly hard to see the public being as slow to work it out.

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