Brexit has many theme tunes but the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is as good as any. If only the Brexiteers could understand this; if only they could grasp that compromise means exactly that. But, consumed by their own monomania, they cannot for they are blind to everything except their own convictions.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man evidently guilty of believing too much in his own fan mail, sonorously declares it is time for Theresa May to go. Nick Timothy, a courtier whose chutzpah has few equals in recent British political history, decries what he terms the Prime Minister’s ‘capitulation’ to Brussels or, as some of us view it, reality. Never mind that the Prime Minister’s two greatest mistakes have been her failure to tell Rees-Mogg where to go and listening to Timothy in the first place.
It was Timothy who drew the Prime Minister’s catastrophic red lines, ruling out many of the post-Brexit options – Norway! Switzerland! – that had been happily embraced by enthusiastic pro-Brexit forces in the innocent days before the referendum. That blunder set us on the road to this ruin.
And it is ruin, make no mistake about that. There is no Brexit that is deliverable and yet, for all the hysterical clamor for a second referendum, little chance of avoiding some kind of Brexit either. This goose is cooked, this jig is up, this game is a bogey. Brexit is not being done well because it cannot be done well; the surprise remains that it is being done at all.
It could have been different, I suppose, but that would have required a different government or, at least, a different Conservative party. One way or another Europe has crucified the last four Conservative prime ministers and the only good argument for replacing May, beyond her own obvious failure, is the sport provided by the spectacle of seeing a fifth consecutive Tory Prime Minister destroyed by his or her own party. Andrea Leadsom, your country needs you, your time has come.
Even so, the Brexiteers have any number of questions but precisely zero answers. Who should replace Theresa May? No idea. What should they do? Who can say. How, in any case, would they achieve what they want to do? Ask us later, guv.
Not that the country can look to the opposition for any relief or consolation. Labour’s Brexit policy has been an exercise in shameless cynicism and duplicity. The fairest thing that can be said right now – if also perhaps the most dismal thing that can be said right now – is that this Conservative party deserves this Labour party and this Labour party deserves this Conservative party.
Perhaps there will be a vote of confidence in May’s leadership and perhaps she will win it. That would, as a technical matter, give her a year’s immunity from further internal challenge. But the mere fact of such a vote drives a bulldozer through the political landscape. The Prime Minister’s credibility, hardly great at the moment, would be shot and never liable to recover.
Even so, I suspect there is greater sympathy for her in the country than many people in Westminster suspect; her dogged stickability and determination to keep buggering on has won her some respect, even if it is also of the grudging kind. At least she is in the arena, not the peanut gallery. And for many voters she at least looks worthy and respectable when contrasted with the charlatans, ideologues and mountebank’s arraigned against her. Not the least remarkable Brexiteer achievement has been to make Theresa May seem better than she really is.
Again however, we must remark upon the irony of Brexiteers deploying the argument used by Remain two years ago. This deal is worse than being a member of the European Union! Well, yes, that’s the bloody point, chum. What part of that did you not hear in 2016?
What a shambles and what a fiasco this is. Rees-Mogg says it is time for a Prime Minister who ‘believes in Brexit’ as though mere belief can overcome the difficulties inherent in pursuing an objective so riddled with contradictions as this. But then, for the ERG crew, the answer to the question ‘Do you believe in fairies?’ has always been an enthusiastic yes. Tinkerbell is not coming to the rescue, however, no matter how much and how deeply you wish her to do so.
Nor is it true that the deal reached between London and Brussels is a complete capitulation either. The memo distributed to EU governments by Sabine Weyand confirmed as much. Attention in Britain has focused on its suggestion the EU will hold all the higher-ranking cards in the future but it should also be understood as an expression of reassurance, designed to stiffen European moral and address concerns that Brussels had conceded *too much* to London.
What does seem certain is that there are no good grounds for supposing the EU would retreat from this deal and agree a fresh one that gives the UK more of what it wants. If there is to be a deal, this is likely to be as good as it gets. And, gosh, color me astonished that the larger party to these negotiations has had the upper hand in them. Who could have predicted that?
And, for now anyway, it remains this deal or no deal for no alternative has been placed on the table or, indeed, anywhere else. Such is the madness into which the Conservative party has descended, however, that dozens of Tory MPs now scurry from television studio to television studio that you cannot believe a word this Conservative government says. They deserve a lengthy spell in opposition; the pity for the country is that this Labour party has no business being anywhere near power.
It can’t go on like this but it will go on like this. This is not ‘not normal’ it is the new normal. No, you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need. Which, in this case, is a deal.
This article was originally published onThe Spectator’s UK website.