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As the various rough beasts slouching towards Downing Street sound their war trumpets, it is time for the rest of us to take stock of where we are and how we got here.
It all harks back to the referendum, of course. That’s where it all began.
Back in the spring of 2016, David Cameron, as Tory prime minister, assured us that Britain was far better off as a member of the European Union than it would be as an independent state. He was right, and if he’d left it there, all would have been over, bar the shouting. But no. In response to the Eurosceptics in his own party, and with UKIP stoking a moral panic over immigration, he decided it was right to ask the British people whether they wanted to stay or go. It was a stupid question, fraught with risk. But he went with it anyway, ignoring the old barrister’s axiom, never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.
Cameron’s assumption was that UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, was a boil that had to be lanced if it was not to fester and grow. It then festered and grew. Farage, a time-traveller from the 1930s, went on to set the agenda for the Leave campaign, forcing the latest Conservative PM Boris Johnson to double-down on a set of beliefs that he never took seriously in the first place.
Tory leavers couldn’t believe their luck. Ghastly old posers like Sir Bill Cash and Peter Bone – Europaths masquerading as sceptics – suddenly found that, after years of spouting nonsense from the fringes, they were suddenly at the cutting edge of the Great Debate. At the same time, previously sensible Tories, including Michael Gove and Liam Fox, began to talk drivel.
“The day we vote to leave we hold all the cards and can choose the path we want”, said Gove. Reaching a free trade agreement with the EU would be “the easiest negotiation in human history,” said Fox. “It’s like threading a needle, said David Davis. “If you have a good eye and a steady hand, it’s easy enough”. Not even the Irish border would prove a problem, we were told. “There’s no reason why the UK’s only land border should be any less open after Brexit than it is today,” said Theresa Villiers, the then Northern Ireland Secretary. Nor, apparently, would the idea of Scottish independence gain from Brexit. As Gove (himself a Scot) put it: “If we vote to leave then I think the Union will be stronger.”
Seriously, what were they doing negotiating a settlement wiht Brussels?