An email arrives from Spurs saying the new stadium is all but complete and the first Premier League game will be played in April. At last. Better late than never. Then came the sting in the tail. In order for the ground to receive its health and safety certificate, the club needed to stage two test events. So would I like the opportunity to pay £20 – or more if I liked – to turn up to see two completely meaningless games of football? One an under-18 match, the other a bunch of retired players playing an exhibition game at walking pace. As it happens, I wouldn’t. I’d imagined it was normal practice for organisations to pay for the costs of opening new premises themselves. Unless I’m missing something, hotels don’t generally charge customers for the privilege of turning up to their gas safety inspection.
So at the very least, I would have expected Spurs to have made tickets to these test events free. I put this to the Tottenham Hotspur supporters’ trust and was told the club was worried not enough people would turn up if they hadn’t paid. Why then, I asked, did the club not charge £10 for each event with the promise that everyone who attended would be given a £10 discount voucher on any future competitive game? Surely that would have kept everyone happy. Except it seems Spurs, like most other Premier League clubs, when given the chance to make a gesture of goodwill or screw a little extra money out of the supporters, invariably choose the latter. Next we wait to find out if season ticket prices for next season will be frozen at the 50% increase announced last year.
I wasn’t the only one who expected the attorney general to revise his legal opinion on the Northern Ireland backstop after the prime minister’s late-night Strasbourg theatrics. Theresa May and the entire cabinet had been banking on Geoffrey Cox to give the European Research Group and the Democratic Unionist party some leeway that would allow them to back her Brexit deal. Not least because the DUP and many of the ERG were desperate to be thrown that lifeline. Instead, Cox astounded the whole country by declaring the cosmetic tweaks that had been obtained did not eliminate the risk of being indefinitely trapped in the backstop. Who would have imagined the government’s top legal adviser would put the law before politics? It’s certainly a new precedent.
Many Tories were incandescent with Cox, with one particularly stupid minister insisting he should have buried the bad news somewhere in the middle of his advice where MPs and journalists might have missed it, rather than write it into his final paragraph. Presumably it might also have helped to write it in Estonian so anyone who did accidentally discover it wouldn’t be bothered to translate it. The belief that no one would bother to read the entire document is touching. And terrifying. It’s also unlikely we have heard the last of Cox, as he is now being leant on to beef up his advice before next week’s third meaningful vote to insist that under the Vienna convention, the UK can rip up any international treaty it feels like. This is insanity. The legal equivalent of the UK announcing its plans to nuke Brussels. No country would ever do business with us ever again. Watch this space for the ongoing strength of Cox’s integrity.
A nightmare. A day when I basically had to rip up three-quarters of the sketch I’d already written and start again from scratch with barely 40 minutes to the latest deadline. My nerves can’t take much more of this. I’m a broken man. I’d thought for once in the ongoing Brexit shitshow that we were in for a relatively quiet day. That May had surely now found a vote she couldn’t possibly lose. After all, a government motion to take a no-deal Brexit off the table was something on which every MP, with the exception of a few delusional members of the ERG, who demanded the certainty of businesses in their constituencies going bust on 29 March, could agree.
Just to make doubly sure she was going to win, May instructed her fellow Conservative Caroline Spelman not to move her amendment calling for the government to really, really – no fingers crossed – take a no-deal Brexit off the table. What could possibly go wrong? Except it turned out Yvette Cooper, who had been a signatory to the amendment, was able to put it to a vote, which the government then lost. So May – now Leader In Name Only or Lino for short – then ordered her MPs to vote against the very motion Michael Gove and Liam Fox had spent the previous few hours vigorously defending. Inevitably, she lost that vote too, and her motion passed. Even when she tries to deliberately lose, she fails. On days like this, it’s a weird feeling to have a ringside seat while the country and the prime minister are visibly falling apart. When I manage to get round to seeing her, my therapist will be working overtime.
We need to talk about Stephen. It was not the many obvious failings of David Davis and Dominic Raab that led them both to resign as Brexit secretary. After all, if incompetence were a resignation matter, there would be almost no one left in the cabinet. What ultimately led them to go was the realisation they had been brought into government under false pretences. They believed they were there to do something about Brexit, while Theresa had appointed them to do precisely the opposite. So when Stephen Barclay, a man of limited talents, all of which he goes to great lengths to keep hidden, was chosen as their replacement, he appeared to be the ideal candidate. From the very start, Barclay understood his main job was to do almost nothing. Brexit was Lino’s department, and he was just in the office to do a bit of photocopying and make the occasional speech, which no one could hope to understand as he is seldom able to speak in fully formed sentences.
In a bad miscalculation, though – largely because Lino’s voice has chosen to do her and the country a favour by going awol – Barclay was asked to make the closing speech on the government’s motion to seek an extension to article 50. And by his standards, he gave a relatively coherent performance, telling a packed House of Commons it was time to act in the national interest and back an extension. What happened next was a first even for this zombie government. Barclay went and voted against the very motion he had proposed. There are only two possibilities. Either midway through his speech, Barclay managed, through the power of his own oratory, to persuade himself actually he was talking rubbish. Or he is more stupid than even Lino had imagined. So we now have a Brexit secretary who will be going to the European council next week to ask for an extension that every EU leader will know he doesn’t really want. No wonder almost every European news channel now has a regular five-minute slot laughing at the UK. At least we’re providing some entertainment.
A friend emailed me about a tweet Piers Morgan had made. At which point it dawned on me that some time over the past two weeks, Morgan must have blocked me on Twitter, as none of his recent tweets had appeared on my timeline. Quite what I had done to deserve this accolade, I’m not entirely sure. It’s possible he is merely being solicitous of my mental health by protecting me from his deluded narcissism, but I rather suspect he is more of a sensitive soul than I had imagined, and it is more likely he took objection to a an entry in this diary from a few weeks back, in which I suggested Morgan was basically a real-life Alan Partridge. Someone whose whole success rested on him being unaware of the limitations that were obvious to everyone else.
As if to prove the thesis, the Morgan tweet I was forwarded suggested that “after a lot of thought” – that’s several nanoseconds for Piers – he had come to the conclusion the country was in such a state the only person who could possibly sort it out was Donald Trump. The president would “take no shit from the EU, parliament or anyone, and he definitely wouldn’t lose his voice”. Morgan concluded by writing: “Mr President, my country needs YOU.” It’s nuts. If there’s one person who could have done a worse job than Lino at negotiating Brexit, it’s the Donald. He’d have pissed off the entire EU on day one and we’d now be crashing out with a no-deal Brexit that even some members of the ERG admit would be an act of immense self-harm. Though maybe that’s Morgan’s agenda. With unemployment rocketing, there will be more potential viewers at home to watch him on Good Morning Britain.
Digested week, digested: Fortnite