Political sketch: Best of British

The Queen's Speech production: men in tights and curtains, and a non-hat on a stick.

When Ronnie O' Sullivan announced a six month sabbatical after winning the World Snooker final last weekend, no one expected him to turn up at the State Opening of Parliament.

But there he was wearing a set of curtains in his part-time job as Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom with only his snooker cue - painted white for disguise - to give the game away.

Lese-majeste comes in many forms but few can be as cruel as forcing the Queen to dress up for a night out in the middle of the morning to announce where the latest rabble who claim to be her Government plan to spend the nation's non-existent money in the next 12 months.

She got time off for good behaviour last year but with the country back up to its ears in odure she found herself booked again to provide entertainment for the tourists who had mis-read their tickets and arrived early for the Olympics.

And not just the tourists since the unemployed were also provided with diversion from signing on as Ronnie, masquerading as the Marquis Of Cholmondeley (pronounced Cholmondeley), accompanied various Sticks, Rods and Yeomen through a rehearsal of the Mikado.

With the House of Lords booked for the occasion and Europe's supply of gold thread bought up months ago the scene was set for the bit of business we do better than anyone else: the past.

Even before the Queen turned up Britain's answer to the Department of Homeland Security - the Beefeaters, distinguished by wearing tea cosies on their heads - disappeared into the cellars clutching lanterns and pikestaffs to check on terrorist activity.

With the Palace of Westminster apparently swept clean, more men in tights turned up in a coach at the backdoor carrying a sword, a crown and a hat on a stick.

The BBC's Huw Edwards, that other national treasure, explained that the crown - carrying enough jewels to clear the national debt on its own - was the one Her Majesty wears for special occasions; obviously, as opposed to the one she wears for putting out the bins which she turned up in.

The hat on stick is not a hat, he also explained, but the Cap of Maintenance which in the best British tradition has no relevance whatsoever apart from being carried around by someone who looked like the Jack of Hearts.

With everything now in place the Queen herself arrived accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh who appeared to have hired the uniform of a Lord High Admiral - and several other people's medals - for the event.

But even with all these entries the best-in-show prize has to go to a surprise late entrant, the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain himself, Nottingham's own Ken Clarke. For once without his hush-puppies and instead resplendent in buckles, wig and bows, Ken looked every inch the great panjandrum as he clutched an ornate cushion cover containing the Queen's Speech.

Just to prove the event was not just a comedy, over in the Commons Speaker Bercow, wearing his own coat of many colours, was hanging about with a few friendly but mostly enemy MPs waiting for the summons to hear the Speech which they had all read in the morning papers. The summons is delivered by Black Rod so called because he carries it. (Do try to keep up!)

His job is to go to the Commons, bash on the door, pop inside and demand the oiks make their way to the Lords where their elders and betters have already taken all the seats, and hear what they will be up to for the next 12 months.

With Speaker Bercow gladly on his own out in front, MPs clearly excited by a school trip followed their leaders Ed and Dave both demonstrating that being well brought up enough means you can make polite conversation.

Finally the Queen got down to what she had been booked for. Ten minutes later it was done and she and a relieved Prince Philip were off again back to the real Palace for the last half hour of This Morning.

Meanwhile back in the Commons, chief oik Denis Skinner, who once again had refused the Royal invitation, must have been happily musing over the cries of "shame" from the Tory benches which accompanied his own part in the historical event: the mauling of the monarch's representative.

As Black Rod nervously made his way back to safety Denis summed up the proceedings: "Jubilee year, double-dip recession, what a start ".

 

Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.