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Penny Mordaunt said Brexit was ‘a noble and hopeful act’ – and then sidestepped all of the evidence

Category: Political News,Politics

Arguably it was kind of Penny Mordaunt to schedule her Brexit speech for 8am on Tuesday morning, if only to make it easier for the gathered media to understand their precise role in proceedings, which was to provide a laundry service where the international development secretary could drop off her conscience on the way to cabinet in the hope it might come out clean in the next day’s papers.

It was well delivered, in its way, this latest attempt by a Tory Brexiter to unburden themselves from the heavily soiled consequences of their actions. If its inflections were just right, one imagines it might be because Ms Mordaunt has delivered it many times before, to her bedroom ceiling, wide eyed at 3am.

Perhaps that’s harsh. Perhaps she really does believe this stuff. Brexit, we learnt, not for the first time, “was never about withdrawing from the world, it was about engaging with it more and more directly”.

And yet somehow – and this must really rankle Ms Mordaunt because she could never possibly have foreseen it when she went into a polling booth and voted to leave the European Union a week after a Labour MP had been shot dead by a far-right gunman shouting the words "Britain First" – she said: "There is a danger so-called populism, rising nationalism, protectionism and a lack of trust in the international system are philosophies which [are] seeking to get traction. Many of those who would try to turn us away from those qualities that have secured humanity’s progress have sought to claim victory in the success of the Leave campaign.”

Indeed they have Penny, indeed they have. And if you’d like just one reason for that, it might be because the Leave campaign of which you speak – and this is not in any way contested – very deliberately rejected all the old, optimistic, Eurosceptic campaign tactics of old: the “Global Britain” stuff, and the “Out and into the World!” slogan that lost by a mile in 1975. Instead, what they did was drive round the country in a bus with lies down the side and then told other lies about Turkey joining the EU, and issued posters with shadowy footprints sneaking into Britain through a back door, left ajar, marked with a British passport.

There are few things more depressing in the world of political analysis than when a politician or a pundit looks at an electoral result and tells you “what the people are telling us”, because it is fundamentally impossible to know, and Ms Mourdant did at least acknowledge that “none of us can look into the souls of our fellow countrymen and women”, before, in her next breath, doing exactly that.

“I can say that during the referendum campaign I spoke to huge numbers of people, about their views and their feelings,” she said. “Many Leave voters were motivated by democracy, by accountable government, and by sovereignty.”

No doubt they were, but, as it happens, I have also spoken to huge numbers of Leave voters about their views and feelings. Like the guy during the immigration speech at Ukip's conference last week who shouted “send them back”.

Or the chap who came up to Jacob Rees-Mogg when I was canvassing with him in Somerset, waving a copy of The Sun that had the refugee crisis on its front page and told him: “I’m glad they’re drowning.”

Penny Mourdant on Oxfam: If moral leadership isn't there then we cannot have you as a partner

These people, Ms Mourdant is quite correct to claim, “have a feeling that they have been left behind – that they, their ambitions for their family, were not the politicians’ priorities”.

She’s right. And that’s why these people were directly targeted by a wildly successful Leave campaign, which she now appears to think was about other things entirely and that somehow these people, who voted Brexit, are squarely behind Ms Mourdant’s new priorities, which involves publicly disowning them at 8am to make herself feel better.

“Over the last year there has been a mischaracterisation of the British people and their reasons for choosing to leave,” she said, taking a long, deep look into the souls of millions of voters that were off limits just seconds ago. “You’d be wrong to interpret Brexit as protectionist, nationalist, or selfish.” 

“Brexit,” she said, “was a noble and hopeful act. It was down to good British people, not bad boys.” By whom she means Nigel Farage and co, who are nationalists, are vocal defenders of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, and for whom fully four million people voted for at the 2015 general election, a direct electoral threat to the Conservative party and no one else, without which there would have been no referendum.  

But that referendum, it turns out, granted only to placate the “bad boys”, and in the certain knowledge it would never, actually, be lost, was suddenly an inspiring thing, true to the values she had just been imposing on millions of people that demonstrably do not have them. “The very fact that we had a referendum, that we had the debate, that we had the vote,” she said, “that we have democracy is a sign of our strength and the qualities that we value.”

Maybe it is. It’s just that, well, you sort of get the suspicion that if we’d, you know, voted to remain in the European Union, then two years later members of the British government wouldn’t be having to spend their time giving speeches about how the British people are really, really global, and not “selfish little Englanders”. So the fact that the vote for Brexit actually proved all those things aren’t true, and yet here she is, two years later, doing exactly that. It’s just an unfathomable mystery, isn’t it?

No, no one can look into the souls of vast numbers of people, but you can count up the basic numbers involved. And you can’t, unfortunately, ignore the tactics that were used to persuade them, for the precise reason that they were successful.

Sorry Ms Mordaunt, we’ve tried our best, but the stains just won’t come out.

The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.

Sign our petition here

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