A BANKER, a journalist and a cold call salesman walk into a pub. Standing at the bar is an MP. “There are limits,” sniffs the cold call king, and promptly leads a retreat to an establishment where they refuse to serve enemies of the people.

Correction: the enemies of the people label has already been applied to the High Court judges in England and Wales who ruled that the Government required the consent of the UK parliament before firing the gun on Brexit.

In the wake of a second rejection of the Government’s withdrawal plan, the papers gave MPs other designations, something slightly less French Revolution, heads must roll, and a bit more in keeping with these Rixian, “Whoops, there goes our Brexit,” times. To the Mail, MPs constituted a “house of fools”, while the Sun dubbed them a “parliament of pygmies” letting down the nation.

Last night, the fools and pygmies took over the asylum. In rejecting any no-deal Brexit, MPs are trying to overturn centuries of tradition and stage a very British, terribly polite, coup against the executive, one with pleases and thank yous and yes, I will give way to the honourable gentleman. What will become of us now?

MPs reject no-deal Brexit

The headlines blaming MPs for the second defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal must have been some balm at least to the prime ministerial soul. It has been extraordinary, and in keeping with her Teflon career before entering Number Ten, how much Mrs May has escaped culpability for the mess Brexit is in. Her stubbornness has been portrayed as determination, her inability or unwillingness to reach across the political divide is depicted as firm leadership.

Since history has decided that she is the person in charge of the Conservative Party as it heads towards a split, she could have stolen a march on the hard Brexiters many months ago and shaped the party more in her middle of the road image. Instead, after her disastrous decision to call an early General Election, the leader became the prisoner of hard Brexiters and the DUP. She chose her side, and she lost.

It is tempting to wonder how Margaret Thatcher would have fared in Mrs May’s position. Mrs Thatcher’s stubbornness led eventually to a quick, tearful exit from Downing Street. Hardly a unifying force, one cannot imagine Mrs T inviting Opposition MPs and union leaders to tea. But would she have spotted growing disillusionment with the EU sooner, perhaps heading it off at the pass? Perhaps. Would she have called a referendum on EU membership? Certainly not. That was a move for a lightweight, someone lacking a certain stiffness in the spine department. How is the memoir coming along, Dave?

Comparisons between Mrs Thatcher and Mrs May may be unfair on the latter. Times have changed, the EU has changed, since Mrs T handbagged her way to rebates and opt-outs. There are 27 other member nations to keep on side now. The Tory Party, though it was ruthless in getting rid of Mrs T, is today arguably more factionalised and vicious.

Given the splits in her party, and in public opinion, perhaps no Prime Minister could have delivered Brexit by now. Whoever was in charge was destined to face more snakes than ladders. Which leads us back to what happens next. If a Prime Minister could not seal a deal, will MPs fare any better?

Nicola Sturgeon: Case for indy never stronger

It is hard to believe now, but in 1989, after the Commons finally agreed to allow the television cameras in, the old place became cult viewing around the world for a while. Here was the Mother of Parliaments, showing how it was done. It was all very quaint and formal, eccentric even, but this was what democracy looked like in action. An example for others to follow, no less. The Commons since Brexit came to dominate the agenda has been more like a cautionary tale. There have been no actual fist fights (that we have seen) but the atmosphere is bare knuckle. The public has looked on not in hope but despair. Never mind handling Brexit, one would think twice about asking some MPs to fetch a pint of milk.

It has always been thus. The idea that parliamentarians of the past were wiser, more talented beings, each with a hinterland of their own, is an attractive but not always accurate notion. Some were. More were party placemen, and yes, they were predominantly men. Even more continued to pursue lucrative careers on the side, treating Parliament as a club to drop into now and then. They made mistakes, every Parliament does, from sanctioning unwise foreign escapades to making the poor pay for the follies of the rich.

Iain Macwhirter: End of the road for May

It is too easy to say that the current intake are of a different, lesser calibre, just because more of them go straight from being aides to politicians to MPs in their own right. A few should have got out more before becoming MPs (Ed Miliband, ex-researcher to Gordon Brown, for one), others were made for the part (Yvette Cooper, who held the same position for Harriet Harman). Others have professional experience to draw upon, such as the SNP’s Joanna Cherry QC and Philippa Whitford, a breast surgeon. More teachers and scientists and fewer ex-journalists and lawyers would be welcome, even more so people from a disadvantaged background, but the Commons is trying to change, albeit too slowly.

As has been plain from the way they have worked to defeat Mrs May’s plans not once but twice, there are various groups of MPs who make the usual plotters look like amateurs. They form WhatsApp groups, they flock together with birds of a different feather when needs must, they have ideas of their own. Brexit is in no more perilous a place with them than it has been with a weak Prime Minister at the mercy of her own internal critics.

MPs have done a demolition job on the PM’s deal. That was the easy part. The far more difficult task ahead is to have a series of indicative votes with the aim of settling on a plan that commands majority support. If they do not have the desire or ability to do so then the EU will, rightly, ask why it should agree to an extension on Brexit. Patience is running out, and not just in London.