The hard-right still playing dangerous fantasy politics

Published by The i Paper (19th November, 2018)

You have probably forgotten about Owen Paterson, a minor league politician who briefly popped up in the cabinet as environment secretary. He was hailed by some on the right as a future leader of the country before his bumbling incompetence and climate change scepticism became too blatant to ignore and he was returned to the backbenches. He is, of course, a Brexiteer. And showing all the razor-sharp wisdom of a man who blamed badgers for moving the goalposts in a debate on culling, he believes Theresa May’s proposed deal with the European Union is defeatist.

Some might say this figure symbolises the inconsistencies of a Brexit insurgency billed as a revolt against elites. Paterson is a privately-educated ‘liveryman’ in one of those ancient City of London companies who is married to a viscount’s daughter, has a house in France, goes horse-riding in Mongolia and been a Tory MP for two decades. But give him credit: he is taking action to save us from the mess he and his chums inflicted on us with their ideological certainties. For he has been having ‘really positive discussions’ in Oklahoma on our future trade relationship with the state.

Never mind that Oklahoma does not make its own trade deals since it is part of a strong union with 49 other states. Nor that it has an economy smaller than Iraq and population less than half the size of London, which hardly makes up for risking our relationship with 450 million prosperous people on our doorstep. Nor indeed that this man has no more authority than you or I to discuss such deals. Sadly, this is just one more example of the fantasy politics pushed by these ultra-nationalists. And even at this eleventh hour, they carry on with their stunts, scheming and selfish refusal to relinquish their cause despite mountainous evidence of unreality and the looming dangers of no deal.

Paterson is, of course, wealthy enough to withstand any economic shock – unlike many voters who fell for his simplistic populist promises. Yet he is far from alone in still playing childish political games as we hurtle towards the precipice. Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab accuses colleagues of failing to stand up to EU bullies after flouncing out of cabinet when he failed to fix a better deal. Yet the partners from whom we are seeking divorce could not have been clearer, more consistent or more cohesive in setting out possible terms of departure – for all the nonsense spouted here about retaining access to their markets on our terms.

Raab was the Brexit minister who failed to understand the importance of the Dover-Calais crossing. He is working with a five-strong cabinet cabal to modify the deal, while others in his camp seek to oust May at this highly-critical point in our island history. Their ostrich-like behaviour baffles those on other side of the negotiating table. ‘It’s horrendous to see politicians so openly fighting for power without taking ordinary people’s lives into account or presenting an alternative,’ said one European diplomat, adding that ‘people and politicians in the UK cannot grasp they are not an equal partner to the EU27 but a supplicant.’

Sadly, this is true. Yes, May’s Brexit deal is pitiful, worse on every level than existing arrangements as privately admitted inside Downing Street. Britain goes from having the best arrangement in Europe – with influence, a decent rebate and no euro – to becoming a supine rule-taker to access vital markets. I hope we can still avert this self-inflicted pain – but the stakes grow higher by the day. And the bulk of blame lies not with the Prime Minister, who for all her faults has displayed immense dignity in recent days, but those charlatans demanding her exit and bleating about betrayal.

This deal starkly exposes the fallacies behind pledges promulgated by politicians pursuing anachronistic imperial dreams. The Brexiteers sold a vision of a richer, freer and stronger nation once we shook off the shackles of Brussels with their promises to keep out foreigners, slash red tape and salvage the health service. One talked of cutting council tax, another of ending prescription charges. They said we could pick the best bits of EU membership while trading freely around the planet – and insisted we held all cards in negotiations that would turn out to be simple.

Now their land of milk and honey has turned sour as dreams strike reality. We end up with less control of destiny. We see diminished national influence, a disunited kingdom, divided citizens, distraught businesses. Yet shameless Brexiteers simply fan a fresh revolt – brushing aside the dismal reality it is fuelled by their own ineptitude after serial failures in key cabinet posts. Meanwhile the boorish Tory MP Mark Francois complains ‘the draft agreement is 585 pages, it is extremely complex and is written in legalese.’ Perhaps it is even worse than feared and these deluded clowns really do believe a complex modern economy can extricate itself from a 45-year trading alliance with a few lines scribbled in crayon on a napkin.

The late John McCain pointed out that democracy and patriotism led to compromise. But these hustlers of the hard-right are so duplicitous, so extreme and so puffed up with self-importance they will not bend as they play out their fantasy politics. They do not care if they tear down a fourth Tory prime minister. They do not care about the economy, firms and jobs. They do not care if they wreck their own party. They do not care if they hand the nation to self-avowed Marxists. They care only about themselves – and they will sacrifice anything on the altar of their own contemptible vanities.

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