QUENTIN LETTS: Popeye Grayling gave the smile of a goat with colic

Popeye Grayling gave the smile of a goat with colic: QUENTIN LETTS sees the under fire minister get a Commons grilling

Chris Grayling, pro-Brexit Secretary of State for Transport

Sea dogs know the type: the rickety rust-bucket that looks, in high sea, as though it can never survive. Waves engulf its bows, water frothing white over its toiling flanks. How can the battered tub crest the next mountain of angry ocean? On the bridge, struggling at the helm, is that a Popeye pipe the skipper has clamped in his teeth? Or, more useful, a snorkel?

Behold the stricken coaster Grayling, soon to go glug glug glug, so laughing snoots would have us believe. I refer to Chris Grayling, pro-Brexit Secretary of State for Transport.

All right, I have myself loosed the odd torpedo at him from time to time, for he is such a wonderfully juicy target, all flapping flippers and a gumby’s repartee, that tall head somehow attracting attention like Duncan Goodhew in a shampoo advert.

Mr Grayling was in the Commons facing an urgent question yesterday. Labour said he had again boobed big-time, this time over no-deal Brexit contingency planning and trying to book cargo ships to cover any trading shortfall if the EU, our supposed friends, play nastily after we leave their club. Just when the contract was about to be signed, its backers, Arklow Shipping, scuttled the deal. The nationality of Arklow Shipping? Irish, m’lud.

As yesterday’s action began, Mr Grayling certainly looked capable of sinking. His fingers were shuddering and his voice had gone hoarse and echoey. ‘Resign!’ cried Labour MPs the moment he stood to answer shadow minister Andy McDonald’s question.

A twitch danced a little hornpipe at Mr Grayling’s left temple. He gave the smile of a goat with colic. He opened his mouth and for a moment nothing came out. Or was that a dribble of yellowy-green fluid? The P&O doctor in me said, ‘that man needs Kwells, pronto’.

Mr Grayling was in the Commons facing an urgent question yesterday. Labour said he had again boobed big-time

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But Grayling survived. Recently I read a terrific and largely forgotten novel, The Sea and the Shore, by Jacland Marmur, in which a freighter ploughs through a hideous storm. Same with Grayling yesterday. Mr McDonald and his friends were partly to blame.

They attacked hard, accusing Mr Grayling of being completely useless, a king of incompetence, a prize numpty, a political calamity. They cackled with glee. They rejoiced in their indignation.

That’s no way to get rid of a minister.

The surer way of forcing a Cabinet resignation is to criticise with apparently reluctant sorrow – ‘the minister is an honourable person, as we all know, but he will recognise that this is a matter born of severe shortcomings, etc’. In the Commons, you more often kill with kindness.

It was to Mr Grayling’s advantage that he had not committed any public money to the unsigned contract. He was also able to read a letter from those elusive backers, Arklow Shipping, who did indeed sound as if they had been well on board. What happened to change their minds?

It was to Mr Grayling’s advantage that he had not committed any public money to the unsigned contract

Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) wondered if there was any truth to reports that ‘the Republic of Ireland and the EU are doing all they can to frustrate Brexit’. Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, NE Somerset) accused Arklow of being ‘eccentric’ (!!) and asked if there was ‘any question of the Irish government’s involvement’.

A Scots Nat asked Mr Grayling if he really felt he had conducted himself ‘to the best of his ability’. Kevin Brennan (Lab, Cardiff W) picked up on that remark and said he very much feared Mr Grayling had performed to his top capability. That was just the trouble.

Nicely done. Far more effective than shadow minister McDonald’s foghorning.

Tom Brake (Lib Dem, Carshalton) worried that Whitehall may have broken ‘EU procurement rules’. Good grief, who cares? The whole reason we’re leaving is to escape such infringements.

He’s an odd fish, Grayling. Each time he sits down, he folds his arms with a ‘that told ’em’ manner. He twists his neck from left to right. He is a gulp in a drainpipe. But on this particular occasion he looks less culpable than the mockers claim.

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