THE recent business in the House of Commons has been instructive and depressing; if you’d ever wondered how the mechanics of leaving the EU could have become such a catastrophe, here was your answer.

In both the debate on the Prime Minister’s deal, voted down by the biggest margin in political history, and the subsequent vote of confidence – which the Government not only won, but somehow contrived to notch up more votes than it would normally enjoy – there was hardly a contribution which would have passed muster in a primary school speaking competition. You would probably have to go to Holyrood to find anything comparably inept.

HeraldScotland: Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May

It wasn’t just that practically no one had a sensible solution for getting out of this mess – that is only to be expected, since there is no outcome that will not disappoint, and probably outrage, a sizeable proportion of the electorate. It was that so many MPs have not grasped the most obvious aspects of the issue.

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Some speeches, it is true, were only ludicrously detached from reality, imagining the UK as some sort of Singaporean laissez-faire paradise or, from the other side, arguing that the EU would like to extend all its advantages, and none of its tiresome rules about markets to us gratis, while Jeremy Corbyn turns the country into Venezuela.

But other statements – not least Mr Corbyn’s – indicated that many MPs have yet to get clear such minor points as the difference between the customs union and the single market. There were numerous declarations that there was no majority in the Commons for “no deal”, without any apparent comprehension of the legal reality that it’s exactly what they did provide thumping majorities for, when they triggered Article 50, and then voted down Theresa May’s abysmal deal.

There were, it must be conceded, two good performances in the no confidence debate: the speeches of Tom Watson and Michael Gove, winding up for either side. Alas, however, both demonstrated the flaws in the Government and the Labour Party – and in their own words, rather than those of their opponent.

Mr Watson’s “more in sorrow than in anger” approach was brilliantly effective. He said what a difficult and thankless task it was, and that, despite her admirable sense of duty, dedication and tenacity, Mrs May had nonetheless made a worse job of it than literally anyone else would have. This was all not just incontestably true but shiningly obvious, until one looked to the man sitting beside Mr Watson, at which point it was possible to think of at least one person who might have made an even more cackhanded go of it.

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That, in turn, made the inevitable conclusion of Mr Watson’s speech – when he called for a General Election – automatically anti-climactic. The entire population of the UK, one suspects, were with him while he said how useless the current executive is, and that the sooner we get rid of them the better. But the moment he said “election”, we woke up and asked ourselves how that could possibly sort any of our current problems out.

Not just because the choice between the two main Westminster parties doesn’t actually offer either Remainers or Leavers an obvious camp to join, nor even because Mr Corbyn’s current policy is even more incoherent than Mrs May’s, with the added bonus of being located in cloud-cuckooland. But because, even if any party were advocating a coherent position (and there is a case for saying that the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are), it is bound – whatever form it takes, Remain, Leave or some compromise like the EEA – to be one that will, first, anger and alienate half the country and, second, that there will be no one competent to deliver. Mrs May and Mr Corbyn may be the two least impressive politicians of the past century, but only the demented would think that Sir Vince Cable or Nicola Sturgeon are a notable improvement.

Mr Gove’s speech had a similar self-detonating mechanism. He was excellent on pointing out that Mr Watson hadn’t mentioned his own party leader, and provided a comprehensive account of his manifest unsuitability for office. He also got a nice dig in at Ian Blackford, who failed to mention fishing during his 20-minute speech. But all that those lines of attack did was to highlight the fact that anyone could have flung the same sort of argument at him.

Leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and halting freedom of movement are the only two things which Mrs May’s plan offered to deliver, from the long list of promised advantages held out by, inter alia, Mr Gove during the referendum campaign. It’s true that no one from the Leave campaign has actually been allowed to do anything to shape the current policy, but Mr Gove must know how pathetic what is on offer looks next to what was anticipated.

And he must know where to place the blame, too, which is, like Mr Watson, with the person sitting next to him on his own front bench. Presumably to avoid the charge he levelled against the Labour deputy leader, he did mention Mrs May. Once. When saying that a lot of jobs had been created under her “inspirational leadership”, words which must surely have prompted a hollow laugh as he wrote them.

It is horrific to think of where we are now, compared with where we might have been if there were anyone in power at Westminster with a tenth of the leadership qualities the British public would have demanded even from junior cabinet ministers a couple of decades ago. The other day I saw Sir John Major described as one of our most respected prime ministers. “Respected for what?” I wondered. Black Wednesday? The cones hotline?

Then you look at the list: Tony Blair, who gave us the Gulf War; Gordon Brown, who gave us fiscal Armageddon and the banks bailout; David Cameron, who dumped us in the current mess and sauntered off. Your respect for Sir John grows, albeit not much, and from a low starting point. But none of those four, each in their own way utterly dismal, could begin to compete with the stupidity, incompetence and capacity for disaster that has been exhibited by the Prime Minister and the Labour Leader. The House of Commons has voted to declare it has confidence in the Government. Can you believe that? Even they can’t.

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