“THIS Is about who we want to be as a country.”

That phrase. We’ve heard it over and over again. Brexit has been a proxy debate about values right from the start.

This week, the House of Commons has been voting on a rather different EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the one that went before the last parliament and as a barometer of values, it’s worrying.

Does it guarantee workers’ rights? No it does not. Does it give MPs a say over the government’s negotiating position on trade with the EU? You must be kidding.

But surely it does at least confirm the Dubs amendment, giving protections for child refugees after Brexit? Actually no. All those provisions, which existed in previous versions of the bill, have been sliced away now that the Government has a majority and doesn’t need to appeal to any tiresome snowflakes on the green benches.

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It might seem to you and me like a moral duty to ensure that refugee children who have been separated from their parents are guaranteed the right to come to the UK if their family are already here. You might think that the UK Government has made a promise and should keep faith with those vulnerable children.

But the government of new improved Buccaneering Britain seems to see it as an unacceptable constraint on its right to pick and choose who comes to these glorious shores. How we vote on the Dubs amendment is about who we want to be as a country, shadow Brexit minister Thangam Debbonaire told MPs on Wednesday – just before the amendment was voted down. Well if that’s true, then welcome to Perfidious Albion.

This is the true nature of the new government at Westminster. You can listen to Boris Johnson’s everyman patter – so soothing, so reasonable – or you can look at what his government is actually doing. And what he is doing is pushing the right-wing agenda of his Brexiteer back seat drivers.

The devolved administrations? The message from Westminster is: fall in. MSPs may have voted overwhelmingly to reject the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on Tuesday but much good it will do them. Upset, are they? Aw, shame. Never mind.

Laughably, the Prime Minister said on December 13 that his election victory marked a moment of “closure” for the country over Brexit. “This is the time we move on,” he said. We’ll “get Brexit done” by January 31.

This isn’t self-delusion, but careful spin designed to exploit voters’ understandable Brexit fatigue. He is banking on convincing us all that it’s safe to stop paying attention, that Brexit has been laid to rest, that everything coming after January 31 is mere detail.

In truth, January 31 will be the greatest non-event since the relaunch of Top Gear. “What comes later” is the real Brexit – the difficult bit where our trade and political relationship is agreed with the EU. Brexit done? It’s barely begun, and on current readings, it looks set to be as painful and unfulfilling as the most ill-advised divorce.

The Government’s frankly barmy decision to tie its own hands by legislating to stop itself extending the transition period – regardless of whether a trade deal with the EU has been agreed – is further proof of Mr Johnson’s continuing obeisance to the fanatics. Five years after the Brexit vote, Britain could end up crashing out on no deal.

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Even if some kind of phased deal is pursued, where the most pressing priorities are agreed by the end of 2020, screeds of important decisions will be postponed till a later date, guaranteeing years of negotiation and conflict.

And all for what? The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was in the UK this week giving Brexit diehards a crash course in realism.

It boiled down to this: the UK wants a clean break with the EU? Then that means a distant trade relationship fettered by tariffs and quotas. It wants a comprehensive zero-tariff free trade deal? Then that means regulatory alignment. It wants free movement of goods, capital and services? It can’t have those without accepting free movement of people.

Absolutely nothing she said was new. Absolutely nothing she said was surprising. Absolutely everything should have been anticipated by the Government. And yet even now, it can offer no clear path through this thicket of contradictions.

Does the Government truly mean it when it insists rights and environmental standards will be upheld after Brexit? If so, then its course is clear: it must remain closely aligned to the EU in order to secure a comprehensive trade deal. That would be best for the UK economy, for workers and for inward investors who have chosen places like the north east of England to site their factories due to its access to the EU market.

But IDS wouldn’t like it. Nor would Dominic Raab nor Andrea Leadsom. And so to keep faith with his own hardliners, Mr Johnson would have to take a damaging course for UK businesses and workers that would leave the way clear to deregulate the economy – all against the backdrop of a deepening constitutional crisis over devolution.

This is the likely flavour of Boris Johnson’s One Nation Toryism.

Boris Johnson is a purveyor of words. He has sweet-talked his way into Downing Street and, for now, looks like a winner. He may do for some time: anyone who flashed the cash right now, after years of austerity, would have voters’ affection.

But it cannot last. The public spending tap will dry to a trickle soon enough. Pressure to conclude trade deals will bring pressure to reduce environmental and labour standards. Most UK voters didn’t back a Brexit-supporting party at the election and we fall for the Prime Minister’s post-election charm offensive at our very great peril.

“Palpable hubris” was SNP MP Alyn Smith’s description of the attitude emanating from Tory benches when the EU Withdrawal Bill passed its first hurdle before Christmas.

Smugness is an unattractive quality, but it’s also foolish, especially in politics.

In a year’s time, when the le merde hits le ventilateur, it has become glaringly apparent that Brexit is neither done nor delivering any discernible benefit, those complacent grins will have turned to rictus smiles.

Really, Mr Johnson, how daft do you think we are?

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