This is what Theresa May should have written in the papers today:
My dear people,
I’m appealing to you directly in order to bypass my cabinet and Parliament, who seem to be merely playing politics with Brexit for party or sectional advantage, and in the hope that you, the people, will put pressure on them to pass the divorce agreement I have negotiated with the other countries of the present EU, despite the fact that it isn’t popular with anyone. But isn’t that in the nature of any ‘negotiation’, whose best outcome is invariably a compromise?
I myself can see the flaws in it, and admit that Britain’s situation under it will be worse in almost every respect than if we had stayed in the European Union. Indeed, that was the reason why I advocated and voted for ‘Remain’ at the time of the 2016 referendum; which, I agree, makes it odd that I should be the one who is endeavouring to implement the result of that referendum now. So let me try to explain.
There are a number of reasons. One is that the other possible candidates have all ruled themselves out: some by resigning as soon as the impossibility of the task became clear (Davis, Raab), others because they can’t be taken seriously as political leaders (Boris, Jacob, Govey, Farage), and probably won’t be, by the wider electorate. (Although who knows? I understand that Boris made quite a name for himself once, simply by bumbling on Have I Got News For You. The English seem to like eccentrics, even stupid ones. And with politics now being regarded rather like a TV popularity contest, they don’t have any other means of judging great issues.) My own great advantage here is that I seem boring – ‘robotic’ is the epithet usually applied to me – which means that I have no charisma that might lead you astray.
So far as I’m personally concerned, one of the reasons I’m here is that I’ve always wanted to be Prime Minister, and the fiasco over Brexit just happened – quite fortuitously – to give me the chance. Another, more principled, reason is that I’ve long felt strongly about immigration; the effort to control which dominated the agenda of my long depressing spell as Home Secretary, albeit unsuccessfully. (They still kept coming in.) The ‘hostile environment’ was one of my earliest slogans in this connexion; ‘queue-jumping’, ‘go home’ (on the side of a truck) and ‘only if they’re rich enough’ are the latest ones. I’m sorry if these don’t sound very sympathetic to poor oppressed refugees, but that’s the sort of woman I am. (Don’t be fooled by the fact that daddy was a Rev.) Never mind that I already had control of extra-European immigration (the darkies), and even of European immigrants if they couldn’t find work (it’s in the EU constitution); putting the blame for immigration on the EU was a sure-fire way to make me popular (I hoped) with voters who had been persuaded by right-wing newspapers that Europe was at the bottom of it. (Together with outlawing bendy bananas. It was clever Boris who made that up.)
OK, so Brexit was always a terrible idea; leaving Britain weaker, poorer and more vulnerable to outside forces that are far more powerful and malevolent than ‘Brussels’: like the USA (insisting on lower food and labour standards if we want to trade with it); the onward march of global capitalism; and even Russia, the old enemy. Of course it would be better if we could call the whole thing off, and go back to being a part of the EU, on the same (generous) terms, if it would let us. We’re all saying that, privately. There are also the undeniable facts that the Referendum was won for the Brexiteers by means, just coming to light, of chicanery and foreign interference – it makes sense to both Trump and Putin that Europe is broken up; that it was foolish of David Cameron to have called it in any case, on those terms (a simple majority and on a vague question) and just then (at the peak of austerity, when the electorate just wanted to get at him); and that it was largely the elderly who voted for Brexit, many of whom have died since, with new young and Europhile voters taking their place – meaning that the ‘popular will’ has almost certainly shifted in the EU’s favour since June 2016. All this would seem to suggest that it would be wise to have another popular vote on the terms of our departure, which no-one was clear about in 2016; not only wise, but also pretty democratic, one would have thought. The Brexiteers in my own party, however, have a different view of ‘democracy’, holding that once the ‘people’ have voted one time they can’t be allowed to change their minds – or, in this case, their demography. I’m not sure that I accept this, but I’ve been parroting it robotically, because it’s what my Brexiteer MPs expect of me. And they have been shouting louder than anyone else over the last couple of years.
This really is at the root of my problem. It’s not just my MPs, but also the right-wing media, presenting the debate in terms of a battle between ‘the People’ and ‘the Establishment’, with the Establishment said to be only too willing to ‘betray’ the People at every turn. This ignores the fact that most Brexit leaders are Etonians and currency speculators. But quite apart from that, the effects have been to make the debate far less rational than it would have been otherwise; to split the country violently, at least in its public discourse; and to raise the spectre of serious social and political unrest if I’m seen to renege on that original ‘people’s vote’. Of course, in reality the split was there before all this Brexit business started. It was largely the result of ‘austerity’: the erosion of the welfare state and so of any kind of ‘social contract’ between government and people; and behind that – probably – the development of capitalism into its late, self-destructive phase. But the true response to this – more social democracy – is too much for a Conservative like me to swallow. So the only solution – an interim one – is to give the impression of obeying that 2016 ‘people’s’ verdict, in order to make the best of a bad job. That’s what my European settlement does.
You may not like it, any of you; but just bear in mind the alternative: more domestic conflict, and the emergence of all kinds of political extremes as a result. It’s hardly far-fetched to fear that neo-Fascism (of a distinctive British, Daily Mail kind) could be one of those. Or the Commie terrorist-hugging Jeremy Corbyn living in Number 10. You don’t want that, do you? – So, back me. And tell your MP to.
Your faithful servant (supposedly),