Brexit: the penny drops as Sir Humphrey is wheeled in amidst the “whiff of sexism”

Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, had to have an uncomfortable conversation with the then Prime Minister, Theresa May in 2016. He told her:

…you have made three commitments in good faith to different audiences, but they are not really compatible with each other.

You have said to the Irish, under no circumstances will a hard border be erected across the island of Ireland.

You have said to the Democratic Unionist community under no circumstances will there be divergence from the rest of Great Britain.

And you have said to the right of your own party that you are heading out of the customs union.

You can’t do all three. You have got to choose two of the three.

The government has spent the last three years trying to square the circle of those three commitments, without success.

PM Johnson seems to have realised that this conundrum has to be solved, and has gone for the “put the border down the Irish sea” solution, previously rejected by the Theresa May as something no British Prime Minister would ever accept. It was also rejected by the DUP.

So one has to admire Johnson’s chutzpah in going for this solution now.

And one also has to admire whichever “Sir Humphrey” came up with the following face-saving formula to wriggle out of criticism of this proposal:

Northern Ireland would de jure be in the UK’s customs territory but de facto in the European Union’s

…I suppose we might have known that Johnson would use Latin to try to emerge Houdini-like from his Irish problem.

Johnson appears to be using his rugby captaining skills to push all this through. “Bullshit baffles brains” seems to be his motto.

As Amber Rudd has suggested, there is a “whiff of sexism” in how the European Reform Group beat back Theresa May’s proposals but are looking to welcome Johnson’s equally flawed plans.

In other words, the suggestion is that the ERG is going along with Johnson simply because he has a Johnson.

Ay thang yaw!*

Embed from Getty Images

* For the benefit of anyone born after 1960, this was one of the catch-phrases of the great comedian Arthur Askey (pictured).

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Humour and Op-eds.


  • See latest Comm Res Poll of 26, 00 voters between 2nd and 14th October shows:-
    Leave 50%
    Remain 42%.
    D/K 8%
    Likely outcome Leave 54 Remain 46.
    This is contrary to other polls during the period but significant neverthless, on this basis a referendum may humiliate us!

  • poll of 26, 000. Sorry

  • Theakes,

    I don’t think there is a contradiction between the different polls. The question Yougov ask is (roughly) “Do you think it was the right decision to leave the EU?” Their typical result in recent months has been around 47% Right, 53% Wrong. But ComRes have asked a subtly different question, along the lines of “How would you vote now if there was a second referendum?” That is what has produced the result 54% Leave, 46% Remain.

    The two sets of data would be entirely consistent if we suggest that (approximately) 7% of the voters currently believe “We voted the wrong way in 2016, but, now the least bad thing to do is to stick with our original decision to leave.”

    Clearly this is a small, but reasonably thoughtful, group of “swing” voters, whose final decisions are likely to decide the second referendum result. I would be optimistic that we could win most of them back, provided we could get across to them:

    (1) The “Deal”, whatever it is, is not a neat final conclusion. It’s only the start of another years-long painful negotiation process.

    (2) We’re not “stuck with Brexit”. This referendum gives us the chance to get away from it. And that’s the only way Britain can get shot of the nightmare!

    (3). The second referendum is perfectly fair. It’s the other side who are a bunch of cheats and liars – Not us. They lied to win in 2016. They offered you a pig in a poke in 2016 and made promises that it would all be easy. It hasn’t been, has it? Voting again, now we know what is actually on the table, is absolutely the right thing to do. To deny you that right is what would be grossly anti-democratic.

  • Simon Horner 16th Oct '19 - 10:43am

    The idea that Northern Ireland could be “de iure-UK” but “de facto-EU” for customs purposes sounds like an elegant compromise when expressed in Latin, but think about what this actually means. In law, NI would be in the UK sphere but in fact it would in the EU customs zone.

    This implies that everyone involved has to turn a blind eye to the written rules and informally apply the EU tariffs for relevant goods crossing the Irish Sea, which is absurd.

    The EU will obviously require the rules to be written down and enforceable. And HM Customs and Excise will need statutory authorisation to operate the system. That makes it a ‘de iure’ arrangement.

  • Roland Postle 16th Oct '19 - 11:20am

    @theakes The questioning in that ComRes poll was very different to usual polls. Instead of asking “if there was another referendum how would you vote” they asked “what would be your preferred outcome” with no reference to the process leading to the outcome. So it’s fair to assume a chunk of the Leave answers are those who actually prefer to Remain if not for the fact they still believe the 2016 referendum should be respected, yet would have answered differently in a confirmatory referendum scenario.

    For what it’s worth, the poll also games what it calls the ‘second’ referendum question by asking only about a 3-way referendum with no-deal on the ballot, which obviously many who are against no-deal but in favour of a confirmatory referendum would have said they oppose.

  • David Becket 16th Oct '19 - 11:32am

    It is difficult fo those who believe in a European Community to understand how so many of our countrymen/women are prepared for a No Deal Brexit. It is obvious from what is happening in the car industry and from the warnings from across the business spectrum that a No Deal Brexit will damage our economy and cause thousands to lose their jobs. This is not project fear from the political class but an accurate assesment from those at the front end. Yet a third of the country, headed by the current leadership of the Tory party, still want to walk away. For somebody who has always taken a logical approach to politics this is difficult to comprehend, let alone determine what we can do about it.

  • John Marriott 16th Oct '19 - 12:06pm

    @Paul Walter
    “Arthur Askey”, or should we not add the prefix “big hearted” to his name? You are showing your age, Paul. As he also used to say, “before your very eyes”, as far as Johnson is concerned, you are witnessing triangulation at its very best.

    Your mentioning of Liverpool’s finest comedian (sorry Messrs Tarbuck and Bishop) reminds me that it was Arthur, who brought us the eye catching Miss Norma Sykes (aka Sabrina). Mind you, LDV has its own version in Jayne Mansfield, whom we can, I am sure, admire for more cerebral reasons!

  • As Roland says, the ComRes question is in terms of “respecting the result of the 2016 referendum and leaving” which is rather a leading question. It will no doubt be pounced on by leavers but polls asking how people would vote if there was another referendum still give remain a narrow lead.

    As far as I can see from what we have been told, Johnson’s deal differs from May’s only in the way the “backstop” will operate. The backstop will still be there separating NI from GB and keeping it in the Customs Union in fact if not in law. I see a united Ireland looming on the horizon.

  • @ John Marriott As it happens I can remember Tommy Handley (born Toxteth, Liverpool) in ITMA.

    Can I do you now, Sir ?

    Dorothy Summers (Mrs. Mopp) – Can I Do Yer Now Sir … › watch
    Video for can i do you now sir▶ 6:44
    23 Aug 2012 – Uploaded by VintageBritishComedy
    Dorothy Summers became famous in the hit BBC radio sitcom of the war and post-war years, ‘It’s That Man …

  • Richard Underhill. 16th Oct '19 - 12:47pm

    Heidi Allen is on BBC tv Politics Live. She has said that “Northern Ireland is being sold down the river” and “any deal should be ratified by the British public”.
    Camilla Tominey (Daily Telegraph) is giving forecasts about what most of the ERG will do, what the DUP will do and therefore a Boris deal would be supported.
    Labour MP Lloyd Russel Moyle said that they do not want Boris Johnson to still be PM during a general election because they do not trust what he would do.
    Jeremy Corbyn had said that he would ask all Labour MPs to vote against.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Oct '19 - 12:48pm

    and therefore WHETHER a Boris deal would be supported.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Oct '19 - 1:05pm

    Turkey is buying jets, etc from Russia and other non-NATO sources. There is no procedure in NATO for the expulsion of a member state.
    Heidi said that the whole arms sale business is “a dirty business” and she would prefer that we (the UK) could make our living without doing this.
    My recollection is that this derives from decisions of Denis Healey as defence minister.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Oct '19 - 1:11pm

    Simon Horner 16th Oct ’19 – 10:43am “That makes it a ‘de iure’ arrangement.”
    ? Is this a typo or a third alternative?

  • John Marriott 16th Oct '19 - 1:36pm

    @David Raw
    It’s that man again! Hi, David. Don’t forget Jack Train as Colonel Chinstrap (“I don’t mind if I do”). Makes you realise how old some of us are. I’m still on George Dangerfield’s ‘Strange Death of Liberal England’. He didn’t think much of Women’s Lib, did he?

    But back to the serious business. Who WAS Liverpool’s greatest comedian? Well, I think that Tommy Handley never made it to TV so it’s hard to say. Of course, I should have mentioned Ken Dodd. Mind you, as far as Liverpool is concerned, they are still not laughing at Boris Johnson, for reasons that you and I know well.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Oct '19 - 1:55pm

    I originate from several years into the decade our esteemed author describes as necessary to get the gag. I get it.

    As a boy of about four, I saw the great Mr Askey in panto, Babes in the Wood, we had, a box, afforded by an average income family those days, and the great comic sand “busy busy bee,” looked right up at me as could see how young and how keen this member of his audience was!

    Good choice of example, here!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Oct '19 - 1:57pm

    Sang, not sand!

  • Bernard Aris 16th Oct '19 - 2:00pm


    Look at Professor John Curtice’s analysis for the BBC website of ALL recent and older Brexit polls for the only authoritative conclusion.

    He points out that differences already start popping up if instead of “referendum”, you put “Public vote” in your questioning.

  • @ John Marriott ” Who WAS Liverpool’s greatest comedian?”

    If you’d known him, my old Huddersfield Town manager Scots pal, Bill Shankley !! Absolutely hilarious and completely uninhibited (mustn’t say why on LDV).

  • Nigel Jones 16th Oct '19 - 5:05pm

    As David Allen says, one reason why so many leavers still want to leave is because they think leaving without a deal is the simplest solution, BUT it is not. The simplest solution to our problems is to remain; this has been shown (we would think) by trying to get a deal that does us little harm. Unfortunately, so many people have been indoctrinated to believe that the EU is a major problem to us that unconsciously or consciously they cannot believe that remain is a simple solution to our problems.

  • Nigel Jones 16th Oct '19 - 5:08pm

    Further to my comment above, does that not mean we must tell people constantly why remain is to our benefit. Is there any time left to do that ? All we can do is try and try better than we have been doing so far.

  • John Marriott 16th Oct '19 - 5:26pm

    @David Raw
    I owe Tommy Handley an apology. According to Wikipedia he actually appeared in a comedy series called ‘The Disorderly Room’ in 1937! That was slightly before my time and there were no tele recordings in those days!

    Talking of ‘disorderly’ rooms, things will soon be hotting up in the Commons Chamber in anticipation of a lively weekend. To borrow a phrase from your mate, Bill Shankley, they say it could be a matter of life or death. Oh no, it’s more important than that!

  • Dilettante Eye 16th Oct '19 - 5:48pm


    “..according to the Brexit Secretary, Boris Johnson ‘will ask EU for extension’ if no Brexit deal by Saturday…”

    That’s not quite accurate. What he said was closer to :

    “the government ‘will abide by the text’ of the Benn Act”

    Boris might well write the extension request letter, and might even comply with his Scottish Court assurances by sending the letter (unsigned).
    But he cannot possibly validate it as an official request, by signing it.

  • David Allen 16th Oct '19 - 6:36pm

    While we wait with bated breath, it is worth thinking about the peculiar behaviour of the DUP. The EU offered May a Northern-Ireland-only backstop. To get over DUP objections against a border in the Irish Sea, May renegotiated an all-UK-together backstop. That seemed to be a big and very helpful concession to DUP. But they turned it down flat.

    Then Johnson took over. He clearly wanted to revive something closer to the “border in the Irish Sea”. And yet oddly, the DUP gave him initial encouragement. They may eventually have found what the EU are offering unacceptable, but their initial reaction was to give Johnson a fair wind. So – Why on earth should they have done that?

    “A whiff of sexism” has been mooted. I suspect that suggestion diverts attention from something more damning.

    Brexit offers the DUP something the rest of us hardly notice. It could offer a chance to drive a wedge between Ulster and Eire, to weaken the Good Friday Agreement, and to create the conditions for a revival of the Protestant ascendancy in Ulster. That’s what really attracts the DUP.

    May’s deal would have kyboshed that prospectus, making Brexit no use to DUP. That’s why (begin shout) Ulster Said No (end shout) to May’s deal.

    What the DUP liked about Johnson’s approach was that it was intrinsically more divisive. It was seeking to give the DUP regularly repeated opportunities to (shout) Say No (end shout) to alignment with Eire. An offer to regularly re-inflame sectarian tensions must have sounded like manna from heaven to the DUP. True peace would threaten the DUP’s strength in the long term. So Johnson sought to achieve the opposite.

    Johnson’s Brexit, even if agreed as a Deal, will be a lot worse than May’s Brexit would have been.

  • Peter Martin 16th Oct '19 - 7:46pm

    Whatever happens, there’ll be no end to conflict and division for years to come. What are the options?

    1) We remain in the EU. Leavers won’t be happy, especially as they are unlikely to be offered a WTO option in any referendum.

    2) We leave the EU on WTO terms. Remainers won’t ever shut up about that!

    3) We leave the EU on the basis on some deal or new Treaty. Most likely to be some variant of the TM WA but including anything that Labour will be able to renegotiate. Neither Leave nor Remain will accept that.

  • Reality finally hit you Peter. Sobering fact when you realise voting to open Pandora’s box comes at such a price. Problem is it won’t get better for years, maybe even dacades; I think you realise that but my how many of your fellows still hang grimly to the hope “Just get Brexit done and we can all be friends”. Well you know that isn’t true but they still have to realise that, false hope springs eternal for those addicted to delusion.

  • Mr Woodford view on Brexit.

    As you might know, we commissioned some research several months ago, which helped to inform our view about the likely economic implications of ‘remain’ or ‘leave’. We have spent some time and expended much intellectual effort testing our hypothesis and with only a few days to go to the vote, we stand by our initial conclusions. They were, for the record, that we could not construct a convincing long-term economic argument that supported either ‘remain’ or ‘leave’.

    Well his funds are not going to see the long-term they are dead funds, as dead as a Norwegian Blue Parrot.

  • Damm not so smart phone and not so smart phone user. Posted the Woodford post under the wrong article; my bad.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Tristan Ward
    "The author believes this is the case for two main reasons, because Jews are seen by progressives as being privileged and not a true ethnic minority and therefo...
  • Daniel Howitt
    Well that started off well and then wandered into the land of Appeasement. The best historical comparison would be Hitler and the the Sudetenland....where Hitle...
  • Tim Rogers
    Immense sympathy for a country sandwiched between the two giants. Indeed often forgotten by world events. I suppose that they will have to balance relations bet...
  • Barry Lofty
    @Mel Borthwaite: What you say is obviously true and Ed Davey can expect some accusations from Labour during the election campaign, but Labours recent history i...
  • Peter Davies
    debated has reached its threshold. Will our MPs take the opportunity?...