FOR months now, it has seemed that, on the road to Brexit, the hardliners have increasingly been in the driving seat. This week, however, the extreme Brexiteers appear to have hit some serious bumps in the road.
Boris Johnson’s leadership motor has been spluttering for some time. But his Daily Telegraph column last week calling for “mutiny” among Theresa May’s cabinet seems to have stalled it, perhaps terminally. Disloyalty is the unforgivable Conservative sin, as Michael Heseltine will testify. More than that, the surprising gravitas that Jeremy Hunt has displayed as Foreign Secretary has made his predecessor look even more of a cavalier and reckless buffoon than he did at the time. Poop poop! The bookies have demoted Mr Johnson from favourite to be the next Conservative next leader and decided that Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit Secretary last week, has overtaken him.
Next, the portentous Jacob Rees-Mogg — a man who gives gravitas a bad name — came a cropper in launching his coup against the Prime Minister. He clearly expected others swiftly to emulate his decision to write a letter of no confidence in Mrs May, to trigger a leadership contest.
The subsequent silence has made the Brexit multi-millionaire look even more foolish than did the revelation that his hedge fund, Somerset Capital Management, has decided to establish an investment fund in Ireland, before the UK leaves the European Union. But then Brexit has, after all, long been seen as the province of those who want to both have their cake and eat it.
Even more embarrassingly, his hedge fund’s prospectus has been warning investors of the “considerable uncertainty” that Brexit is causing, and the possible deleterious impact that this could have on investments. A hard Brexit, Mr Rees-Mogg’s clients were informed, would “increase costs” and make it difficult to pursue the fund’s investment objectives.
But silliest of all is the serial ditherer Michael Gove. He let it be made public that he would take over from Mr Raab as Brexit Secretary only if he was allowed to renegotiate the deal which Mrs May had spent the past 18 months painfully patching together. When she said no, entirely predictably, it seemed that he had no option but to resign.
Instead, he crept quietly back to his job in charge of fishing policy. Small wonder that the political pundit who sketched the Cabinet Brexiteers as characters from The Wizard of Oz named Chris Grayling as the man without a heart, Andrea Leadsom as the one without a brain, and Mr Gove as the cowardly lion.
Elsewhere on this page, the esteemed Canon Angela Tilby holds up Hooker as the Reformation exemplar of compromise for those who might reluctantly embrace Mrs May’s deal. Better that, I suppose, than his contemporary, Thomas Hobbes, whose Brexit would presumably be nasty, brutish, and short. If those wanting a second referendum represent Catholics yearning that the country might return to Rome, I can only say that I long ago stopped asking our Lady to intercede to bring England back to the True Faith, but I’m still hoping that our MPs will offer us a People’s Vote.