Alastair Osborne looks behind the door of Brexit HQ and sees a little comedy and a lot of horror.


BBC’s Inside No. 9 is a dark comedy with each episode a self-contained story. They are linked only by the number 9 in some way and rely on a combination of comedy and horror.

It’s only a matter of time before the writers Shearsmith and Pemberton come up with ‘No. 9 Downing Street – a tale of blood and Brexit’. 9 Downing Street is the property that no-one took any notice of until its use changed to become Brexit HQ, David Davis’s centre of Leave EU planning, or of ‘panic, plots and pique’ as the Guardian described it. That might be a better title for the episode.

At one time No. 9 housed the judicial committee of the Privy Council, and has been the office of the Chief Whip, though their official residence was always No 12. Davis was determined not to be shunted off to some far off part of the country to contemplate his impact assessments – he held out for an office quite literally as close to No 10 as you can get.

The comedy part of this episode will be amply covered by David Davis himself. The Guardian political sketch writer John Crace describing his most recent visit to the Select Committee wrote:

“It could have been a scene from The Office. One in which David Brent had been summoned to HQ for a performance appraisal. One where he died on his feet  while believing he was nailing it. Only for David Brent read David Davis.”

With cameo roles for Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson or Labour’s Kate Hoey the comedy part is well covered.

Now for the horror. Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, summed up Davis’s terrifyingly inept performance at that same Select Committee session thus:

“Today we saw David Davis u-turn on everything from ECJ jurisdiction to customs union membership, to the ease with which Britain might be able to sign trade deals – in short, a typically shambolic performance from the man with no plan. And his announcement that a future UK-EU trade deal will be a ‘mixed agreement’ further highlights the difficulties that lie ahead, requiring the ratification of all the European Union’s national parliaments.”

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, has now passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons and is being scrutinised in the House of Lords. The Government won the final vote by 324 to 295. There were a whole series of votes on amendments to the bill, none of which passed, and the Government’s narrow majority with the DUP held firm. Labour MP Ian Murray proposed a new clause which would have required the Government to present an impartial economic comparison of Single Market and Customs Union membership (what we currently have) with any deal the Government negotiates with the EU and brings before Parliament. This was defeated because the Tories know full well that the deal they will bring before Parliament at the end of the process will be inferior to our current arrangements. Membership of The Single Market and Customs Union should be a prerequisite in our negotiations.

There was also a horror moment for the Scots Tory MPs as they realised that the promised fix from the Secretary of State for Scotland on the devolution of powers returned failed to materialise at Report Stage as he had promised. Again Ian Murray tabled an amendment on this, but the Scots Tory MPs fell into line – leaving it to the unelected Lords to sort out their mistakes. As Ian Murray explained in his recent newsletter:

“As we leave the EU there will be lots of powers which go to Holyrood. The Government’s legislative approach means that these powers will go to the Secretary of State for Scotland to decide upon, and not, as per the devolution settlement, straight to the Scottish Parliament. Devolution works on the simple principle that ‘everything is devolved unless it is reserved’ therefore, any new powers which are not explicitly reserved should automatically fall within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.”

As time goes on and it becomes clearer and clearer to the British public that the promised benefits of Brexit are not going to materialise, more and more people are going to ask if Brexit is really inevitable. When people narrowly backed Brexit in the referendum they didn’t expect it to have a negative impact on the economy, jobs, NHS, environment or our rights at work.

The Brexiteers have tried to convince the public that the decision to leave the EU is irreversible after the referendum vote and the passing of Article 50, but this is far from true. Right across the spectrum key players are now beginning to admit this – Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jeane Claude Juncker and Donald Trusk – all agree that leaving is not inevitable. There is also robust legal opinion that Article 50 is not binding and can be revoked if we change our minds.

Inside No. 9 often ends with a twist in the tale – just when you think you know where it’s going, the unexpected happens. 9 Downing Street may yet end with the public changing its mind; a clamour for a second referendum becoming unstoppable, and removal vans drawing up behind No 9, and possibly next door too.