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As Brexit absorbs all political energy and guile, the country’s problems mount

5 28 0
21.04.2019

We can all list our favourite reasons why the Brexit promised in the pale dawn sunlight of June 2016 has not turned out to be a walk in the park or even a final date with EU destiny. But whatever we now think of the outcome of the referendum, we are all trapped in the old Indian saying about the banyan tree – under its shade little new can grow. Sometimes, I miss my role writing about politics of the kind that was not just about meaningful(ish) votes, all-or-nothing dates leading to the next cliff edge, scoldings from EU leaders, and whether Theresa May is on her way out, only to be there the next week and off on another walking holiday.

One day political archaeologists will dig into the frozen tundra and find the remains of government activity preserved under the permafrost. It might well start with HS2, which was once a glorious project slashing commuting times to Birmingham, with vague promises of what it might achieve for “the North”. (Westminster has a terminology as inexact as Narnia for areas outside the south-east.) Now, unnoticed by all but high-speed train-spotters, the project’s completion cost, date, capacity, speed and even where it should terminate in London are in question. Sir Terry Morgan, the outgone chairman, has described the price tag as a “guesstimate”. New sums suggest the cost might rise from £56bn to nearly twice that amount, before we add on trains and power costs.

Overseeing vast infrastructure projects on the taxpayers’ behalf is the bread and butter of government – and yet they feel peripheral to the daily slog of Brexitology. A minister at the heart of the fray describes the effect on politicians as “living with hyper stimulation” – unable to catch breath or resources to deal with anything that is not to do with avoiding backstops, meeting deadline dates and keeping up with parliamentary procedure.

Few prizes await those who bash on with tricky projects, try to streamline clunky civil service operations or pursue an unpopular argument with colleagues to make an idea better (or, as in the Chris Grayling Brexit ferries fiasco, fend off the worst).

Occasionally, something urgent forces its way onto the agenda, most recently the spike in knife crime. On this subject, May and the home........

© The Guardian