WHAT a mess this Brexit business is turning out to be. First, a misguided referendum, then a misjudged election, and now a misspent two years has been squandered since the referendum in internal Conservative Party squabbling.
Our, thankfully, former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has apparently been telling his associates, privately, that the Prime Minister’s current negotiating proposal is even worse than remaining in the European Union on the old terms — not that you can rely much on Mr Johnson’s judgement. The thinking behind his resignation was as transparent as it was opportunistically self-seeking. Donald Trump may be “America First”, but Mr Johnson is not even Britain First — just Boris First.
Mrs May has warned the fissiparous Conservative Party that if it carries on with its internal feuding it will simply let Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. Where that would leave us is anyone’s guess. The Labour Party has no discernible Brexit position, beyond sitting on the fence to avoid alienating the pro-Leave half of the electorate. And it is hard not to suspect that Mr Corbyn secretly adheres to his old far-left 1970s view that the EU is a capitalist plot.
Mr Corbyn’s priority appears to be to use the Brexit chaos to force a General Election. But, if Labour appears to be putting party before country, plenty of Conservatives are, too. The sad truth is that a majority of MPs in both parties realise that Brexit is a terrible blunder, but dare not say so for fear of being branded “enemies of the people” by the tabloid press. So we are lumbered with a public discourse in which all politicians have to pretend to back Brexit, although defining it differently as it suits them.
Mrs May is described by political pundits as a weak Prime Minister, and is praised with faint damns. Yet she has, on the contrary, done as well as could be expected with the terrible cards she has been dealt, even if calling the disastrous election was her own idea. Increasingly, her backbenchers seem to be keeping in mind Hilaire Belloc’s poem about Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion, and which concludes: “Always keep a-hold of Nurse For fear of finding something worse.”
Meanwhile, the Europeans look on in bewilderment at how a nation that was once so known for its common-sense pragmatism has been seduced by this unholy alliance of dangerous dogmatists, ignorant ideologues, and romantic fantasists deluded by nostalgia for the glories of Britain’s imperial past.
There is no parliamentary majority for the kind of Brexit recommended by Messrs Johnson, Davies, Gove, and Rees-Mogg. Most MPs, in all parties, favour a soft Brexit. But perhaps Mr Johnson is right: as the economic, social, and political reality of Brexit comes home to us with every new detail that emerges, all the alternatives on offer do seem to be worse than remaining in the EU.
Whatever deal finally emerges when the negotiating clock runs down, it must be put to the British public in another referendum.