Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Westminster remains a haven for serious exchanges amid the Brexit circus

Parliamentary fireworks obscures the damage to national and international interests

Theresa May accused opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of failing to have an alternative Brexit plan. UK Parliament/Reuters.
Theresa May accused opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of failing to have an alternative Brexit plan. UK Parliament/Reuters.

On the street opposite parliament, a Swiss television presenter hailed passers-by to stop to give their views on Brexit.

One man was overjoyed at the opportunity. “I would like to give my views on all this from a Marxist perspective,” he declared before launching into a long history of his political activism.

It was timely reminder that the pressures that have led to Britain’s decision to leave the EU are not only rooted in a Conservative tradition of reverence for the historical role of an island nation.

Scaffolding covers Big Ben and much of Westminster but there is no hiding the plotting within the palace to demolish the government or least its proposed Brexit deal.

The Left-wing leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn raised a confidence notion in the prime minister that was debated on Wednesday. The familiar sight of Mrs May gathering her strength to see off the full frontal assault was broadcast to a tired nation.

The debate was something of a sideshow. The bigger crisis is how Britain leaves the European Union. On that there was no clear answer of how the executive will proceed.

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Ministers in blue or black suits scurried around the corridors projecting serious intent. Some attended the normal business of their ministerial duties. One of those was Alistair Burt, the foreign office’s middle east minister, who spoke to a committee on the serious dilemmas he faces in handling his duties with Yemen.

In an ornate room, Mr Burt spoke of how recent progress in the UN-led political process sustained him in the face of some very difficult choices.

A former senior adviser to William Hague, the foreign secretary from 2010 to 2014 sought clarity on how the “domestic situation” in Britain had affected its clout abroad.

Arminka Helic, a Bosnian refugee, who came to Britain during her homeland’s civil war in the 1990s and is now a member of the House of Lords. She asked Mr Burt how Brexit and its distractions was having an impact beyond European shores.

A convinced and passionate opponent of a hard Brexit, Mr Burt spoke of London’s steadfastness in recognising the purpose of the Arab coalition as an enduring factor in maintaining London’s voice in Yemen. Similarly Britain’s humanitarian contributions and its work at the United Nations Security Council were important continuing strengths.

The exchange was demonstration, however, of the standing that Britain puts into question as result of its own political instability. In the serene atmosphere of the House of Lords committee corridor, Mr Burt was at home discussing important and sensitive matters for more than an hour.

At one point the chairman almost called time but Mr Burt urged him to continued. “I am safer here Mr chairman than I am in other parts of the building,” he joked. “I am happy for you to go on with this as long as you want.”

The protagonists in the debate over Brexit includes many leading figures that are familiar faces in the Gulf region. Like Mr Burt they struggle to preserve the country’s standing amid the circus surrounding Brexit.

Updated: January 17, 2019 08:01 AM

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