IT was, I suppose, always going to come to this had we had the wit to foresee it – messy, unsatisfactory and, heaven help us, with more arm-twisting to follow. I refer inevitably to Brexit, a term that has polluted the political atmosphere for too long.
Theresa May’s proposed settlement is what you get when the main players are an earnest, if colourless, Prime Minister presiding over a deeply divided country; a Parliament in fearful turmoil; an insecure France and Germany terrified of the EU’s break-up; and an extreme Opposition led by the Marxist Jeremy Corbyn whose sole concern is to grab power.
That is the Devil’s brew, if ever there was one. Theresa May’s open letter to all of us tries to make it not just palatable but necessary.
It is still, not surprisingly, a dog’s breakfast for Parliament to digest next month. It will no doubt make a meal of it whatever happens.
The possibilities seem endless – Theresa May’s resignation, a new Tory Prime Minister, an attempted renegotiation, a general election or an unhappy acceptance that the current compromise is the best we can get for now, with more endless talking to come to settle our future relationship with the EU.
While some of my friends see Mrs May as devious to a fault, I give her credit for doggedly trying to secure what she believes to be in the best interests of the country. Moreover, she may be right: a messy divorce could be the best way, short term, of avoiding disruption to our economy and a threat to jobs.
She may also have calculated she will get away with it because of the fear among Brexiteers that, if they vote her down, they could get a disastrous Corbyn-led Government that could just as easily ditch Brexit as persevere with it.
Corbyn may well be planning to argue in any election that the Tories have betrayed the nation, but he could just as easily decide to remain in the EU if he thought it might be a winning platform.
Amid all this, let no one blame just Mrs May. My judgment of her Brexit performance is tempered by my experience of Margaret Thatcher’s four-year effort to reduce Britain’s contribution to the then EC. She got only two-thirds of a loaf – and then thanks only to Francois Mitterrand who was determined to get the issue out of the EC’s hair.
Mrs May has no Mitterrand around the Brussels table. Only that crackpot federalist, Emmanuel Macron, who is so deluded as to think that a European army rather than Nato’s is the best defence against Russia and, inexplicably, Donald Trump. It cannot be because the erratic Donald Trump now irrationally says our EU deal may prevent an Anglo-US trade deal.
In all the circumstances Mrs May’s final offering may, however inadequate, be something of a triumph.
What is more, the EU looks to be in a mood to crush Spain’s hypocritical wittering about Gibraltar.
It, too, may well have had enough of Brexit, though I might believe that if they stopped using the Irish border as an obstacle.
This brings me to perhaps the crucial calculation in the entire piece. To what extent will the UK remain Jacob Rees-Mogg’s “vassal state” after March 29 next year and what are the prospects of achieving absolute sovereignty well before the 2022 election?
I pose these questions because I am concerned about the health of our democracy if 17.4m can justifiably feel they have been ignored or tricked by a defeatist elite in Westminster.
We need a united Britain, not one seriously fractured for the foreseeable future.
These – and the need to avoid a Corbyn government – are the crucial issues that every MP, Tory, Labour, DUP etc, who calls themselves a democrat must ponder deeply between now and the Parliamentary vote. May God go with them.
Meanwhile, there is one other lesson that Brexit teaches us all. It is the crucial nature of HM Loyal Opposition.
Over the 70 years or so of my experience of politics, I have never seen quite the kind of threat to the nation’s well-being and freedom that is represented by Corbyn’s cabal.
Michael Foot, with an election manifesto dubbed by his own side as “the longest suicide note in history”, and Neil Kinnock may not have been electable as Prime Ministers. But they were moderate democrats by comparison.
Who knows, we might not be in this mess if, from the beginning, the EU had been up against a united Britain with an obvious alternative government in waiting.