As Britain lurches from crisis to crisis, like a drunk man trying to make his way home from a party, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is in Brussels to begin talks on the terms of our departure from the European Union.
It was almost exactly a year ago that 51.9 per cent of 72.2 per cent of the electorate voted Leave. Within minutes of the result being declared, it was interpreted by the Tory Party (less Ken Clarke) as “decisive”. The 48.1 per cent were dismissed as “Remoaners”. The Prime MInister, David Cameron, whose decision to hold the referendum in the first place was in fact the decisive factor, resigned, together with his Chancellor, George Osborne, now the editor of the London Evening Standard. The pair stood condemned as bankrupt gamblers – a judgement that has more force with each passing day. Whatever political capital they had built up in the six years since they moved into Downing Street in 2010 was utterly spent.
Things then got worse. Theresa May, an ineffectual Home Secretary, best remembered for her repeated promise to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands by the day after tomorrow, or possibly the day after that, became Prime MInister. No one knows exactly why or how. May was a Remainer, but had been careful not to say much on the subject of the EU lest it come back to haunt her. Overnight, she became a fervent Leaver. Brexit meant Brexit, she told us. The people had spoken and she was duty-bound to take us out of Europe by all means possible, regardless of her own views on the subject, whatever those might have been.
Months went by until she finally told us what Brexit actually meant. It meant (surprise, surprise!) getting out of everything, bag and baggage, baby and bathwater, by hook or by crook. By 2019, Britain would be so free of Europe that we wouldn’t even remember that we had ever been a part of it. The Single Market? The Customs Union? The European Court of Justice? Irrelevant – all of it. We were hosting the mainsail, ready to catch the trade winds. We would strike “brilliant” deals with the rest of the world, which for some reason – having regarded us for years as the location for an ongoing car boot sale – was queuing up to do business with us.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, a buffoon, whose antics, in combination with Michael Gove, had helped swing the referendum, was appointed Foreign Secretary – a job so unsuited to his carnival barker’s skills that it can only be seen in terms of May’s desire to shut him up in the moral maze of King Charles Street. Johnson is not very bright. He can assert, but he can’t argue. He is totally devoid of subtlety. Nor, contrary to his reputation, is he much of a linguist. In French and German he can hardly string two words together before reverting to English. But because he can chortle like a character out of P G Wodehouse, dismissing his critics as “chumps” and “mugwumps,” the Tory rank and file love him. No wonder the Europeans think we have lost our marbles. Boris says that anyone who calls for Theresa May to be sacked as Prime Minister needs to “get a grip”. But who can doubt that his hat – a clown’s pink bowler – is already in the ring?
And Gove? Govey is back. He was sacked by the PM for behaving like a prat in the days following Cameron’s resignation (you will recall that he was Johnson’s campaign manager for leadership of the party, only to knife him in the back just before the vote was called). But now he is Environment Secretary – a job that he will interpret as foreign-secretary-in-waiting if only he can weasel his way back into Boris’s favour. If he is our future, then maybe it really is time to get on with the past.
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But, hey! Time rolls on and today, with Mrs May as the equivalent of a quadraplegic duck, poor old David Davis – a genial cove with a head on his shoulders – has to show the flag in Brussels. Tonight, apparently, we will hear from him and his EU opposite number Michel Barnier, on any progress they might have made on at least defining the differences between them. The trouble is that Davis cannot avoid the buzz that he is about to be drafted in as prime minister – a job that would mean his having to give up the role for which he has spent the last 12 months preparing. I suspect he will do the right thing by the country by holding on to his present job for a while. If he doesn’t, then a new Exit Secretary will have to be found. God knows who that would be. Gove? Boris? Jacob Rees Mogg? One shudders to think.
How did the once-mighty Conservative Party reach this petty pass? And when did the well-being of the Tories become synonymous with the good of the country? What a shower! If the Labour Party was led by anyone other than Comrade Corbyn, it could launch a successful putsch in a matter of weeks, possibly days. Fortunately for the rest of us, Jezza is in charge – a man not so much opposed to the EU as bored by anything that happens beyond the boundaries of our increasingly septic isle. I weep for my generation.