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Hammond warned against Brexit and no one listened. Now it’s payback

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‘Theresa gave Hammond an embarrassed nudge. Lurch’s empathy skills have often left a little to be desired and he’d mistaken sleep for incomprehension.’ Photograph: PA

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Hammond warned against Brexit and no one listened. Now it’s payback

John Crace

Chancellor could not have been happier saving all his bad news for the autumn statement, which even had Boris jokes

“The economy is strong and resilient,” Philip Hammond began. Lurch’s face then cracked into a half smile. He’d been only kidding. The economy was actually in a complete mess and he couldn’t have been happier. He’d warned his colleagues of the dangers of Brexit and no one had bothered to listen. So now he was going to spell out the consequences to them and they’d just have to sit there and suck it up. The 10 cabinet members sitting alongside him all looked pretty pleased about it too; then they had also all voted to remain in the EU. Coincidence? Hardly. This autumn statement was to be a day of reckoning for the Brexiteers.

First in line was Boris Johnson. “I suspect I will be no more adept at pulling rabbits from hats than my successor as foreign secretary has been at retrieving balls from the back of scrums,” he sniggered. Lurch knew it was just gratuitous sadism to openly mock Boris’s hapless effort to become prime minister, but he was having too good a time to stop himself. Besides, Johnson had managed to annoy just about everyone in the cabinet over the past few months, so giving him a kicking now counts as a team-building exercise in the Tory party.

Lurch then went on to list a litany of failure. Sterling depreciation. Growth slower than expected. Everything the last chancellor had done binned. The budget deficit up to £120bn. The cost of Brexit an extra £60bn. Tax receipts lower. Even the lazy French and Italians were more productive than us. “Members of the House may be interested to know … ” he said. But they weren’t. At least not those on his own benches. They just wanted him to sit down and shut up as soon as possible. This occasion was meant to be an opportunity for the chancellor to boast how brilliant he had been. Not an excuse to admit that everything had gone badly wrong.

Having got most of the really bad news out the way, Lurch moved on to the merely bad news. Old infrastructure schemes that had already been announced got re-announced. The minimum wage was increased by less than the last chancellor had promised. People on welfare would still probably die; the only saving grace being that it might take them a little bit longer to do so.

“I have deliberately avoided giving a long list of projects,” Lurch declared, apparently unaware he had just done so. Quite a lot escapes him.

Half an hour into his speech, most of the House was nodding off. Lurch is one of the few politicians dull enough to make a death spiral sound boring, and vain enough not to notice. After ploughing through a particularly turgid passage in total silence, Lurch thought to interrupt himself. “That bit was complicated,” he said. “But it was actually good news.” Theresa gave him an embarrassed nudge. Lurch’s empathy skills have often left a little to be desired and he’d mistaken sleep for incomprehension.

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Boris Johnson reacts as Philip Hammond delivers his autumn statement on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

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By now the few Tory backbenchers who were still alive were getting desperate. They wanted something to cheer. Anything. So when Lurch announced he was going to hand over £7.5m to save Wentworth Woodhouse, an old pile near Rotherham, they became ecstatic. Getting over-excited about the survival of a stately home wasn’t really what they had had in mind, but it was the only orgasm on offer.

Too bad the “just about managings” wouldn’t have enough spare cash to go to visit the place when it was finally done up. There again, they probably wouldn’t want to anyway. “It is said to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” Lurch had said. Only it wasn’t. Lurch had just gone and saved the wrong palace.

Lurch lumbered slowly on, enjoying the looks of horror on his own side of the house. It was all going even better than he had planned. Most chancellors choose not to leak all their good news stories in advance and save one or two for the speech itself. But Lurch had out-thought everyone. For him the bad news was the good news. The country had voted for Brexit and the country could pay for it. For the next 10 years or longer.

“I do have one last cunning plan,” Lurch said as he came to the final page. Some Tories perked up. Maybe there was to be salvation after all. “My cunning plan is to rename the autumn statement as the autumn budget and the spring budget as the spring statement.” Genius. Not with a bang but a whimper.

source : The Guardian

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