It was clear from the glum look on their faces the moment it emerged that they had actually won the EU referendum that Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were thinking ‘By Jove, what do we do now?’
Like the rest of the political establishment and commentariat, they had anticipated a narrow, yet victorious defeat of Brexit, leaving them to bask in the martyrdom status among the Tory Party faithful that they aspired, whilst still being able to carp about those awful foreigners and the treacherous David Cameron and George Osborne.
Victory meant, as these two bright sparks knew only too well, that they had to navigate a nigh on impossible task of removing the UK from the worlds’ largest trading bloc, without causing economic damage to the country.
That challenge was difficult two years ago. But in 2018, it is an even greater one.
Nobody could have anticipated the election of a United States President who was going to rip up existing trade deals, start a series of trade wars, and basically stick his middle finger up to all of his nations allies in respect of trade relations.
The hope that the USA would be the UKs saviour with a sweetheart deal to reward us for the ‘special relationship’ is accepted now, even by the most optimistic of Brexiters, as about as likely as finding The Donald and Hillary embracing lovingly in a New York Mosque.
Another additional barrier to Brexit progress was a self- inflicted one as far as Theresa May was concerned. Despite assurances to the contrary, the Prime Minister called a snap General Election. She did so in the belief that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was so toxic that she would hammer the opposition and return to Westminster with a huge majority, enabling her to drive through any type of Brexit she liked.
We all know how that plan ended.
The shambles that has been the Government this week is a stain on Parliament and the country. To call the views held by the various wings within the Conservative Party on the EU as ‘diverse’ would be too kind. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing; and the leader has been reduced, allegedly, to lying to her own backbenchers in order to get them to vote with her totally discredited administration. That story has yet to play out, and I still think it might lead to an earlier demise of the PM than may otherwise have been the case.
The other thing Gove, Boris et al could not have known in 2016 was the radical changes that we have witnessed in the EU itself during twenty -four months that have followed. Macron in France; a much weaker Merkel in Germany; a major fall out between Mainland Spain and the Basques of Barcelona; and most recently, the turmoil in Italy.
None of this could have been predicted. All of these things have added to the reasons why the EU will do little or nothing to negotiate a deal that is seen as anything other than a poor one for any country that decides it wishes to leave the club.
These seismic changes were unforeseeable. If you want to be kind to those who promised us an extra Zillion Pounds a day for the NHS if we voted Leave you could reasonably argue that they could not have known all of this would happen.
However, they know now. And it is, therefore, beyond any excuse that they have not held their collective hands up and coughed to the fact that Brexit is simply not doable – without having a hugely damaging impact, ironically in the main, on those who voted for it.
So, to Boris, Gove- and yes to JC and McDonnell too, I say this. Please put personal gain and party politics aside and do what is right for the country. Show some leadership, some courage and admit that, like 52% of the population, you underestimated the Brexit challenge – and that at the very least, before you go any further with this recklessness, you will seek absolute permission to do so from the British people via a second vote.