Brexit’s pound shop Churchills have pushed Britain to breaking point

“But the Queen has no such veto; She must sign her own death-warrant if the two Houses unanimously send it up to her.” So Walter Bagehot wrote in 1867. It’s doubtful whether today’s MPs believe parliamentary supremacy encompasses regicide. But why not try it out? After all, a majority of MPs clearly think they have the right to vote for national suicide. And who could blame them? The past three years have seen the development of a politics of self-harm.

The No Deal fundamentalists used to say Britain had nothing to fear. Brexit would bring the return of Rule Britannia, pink maps and pints for thrupence. Nowadays they’re at pains to remind us that the UK survived the Second World War. Hopefully, the death toll this time won’t be quite as severe.

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach must have been informed by his seances with Peter Shore and Michael Foote. Labour’s ‘alternative Brexit’ could have been written on the back of a fag packet in a Working Man’s Club in the ’80s. The party’s late and lukewarm support for (maybe) a second referendum shows just how bad they think things will get if there’s no deal. The workers’ revolution will still need insulin and food, apparently.

Only the Lib Dems and the SNP have been consistent from the start. Unfortunately, nobody’s listening to a party that can effectively be dismissed as orange Tories (though yellow Tories is probably a better description). The Scottish Nationalists are very effective critics of the prime minister, but who remembers 2014? The SNP’s drive for independence would have taken Scotland out of the EU, with no guarantee they’d be readmitted in the short term. This is still their ultimate goal. Their pontificating about Brexit is appropriately Jesuitical.

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The DUP and Independent Group hardly seem worth criticising. The former remains a sectarian party that’s used Brexit as a cudgel to attack Irish nationalists, even the distinctly un-nationalist Taoiseach. The threat of a border in Ireland is a gold mine of DUP propaganda. The ‘Taigs Under The Beds’ strategy is alive and kicking.

TIG (a regional variant of Tag, so I’m told), has won the approval of much-loved former prime minister Tony Blair. If there is such a thing as Blairite with a small b, this mishmash of third way Labour and europhile Conservative is surely it. TIG is the latest group storming to the rescue of the country. But isn’t every politician the hero of his own story now? Don’t we hear every day from some noble MP resigning or breaking ranks or speaking out for the good of the nation?

An unexpected side effect of Brexit is the mushrooming of wannabe national heroes. Casting themselves in the role of saviour, these pound shop Churchills want the adulation of the people. Some of them even believe they can have their Churchill moment, none more so than Theresa May. Why else would she persist through all the humiliation, betrayal and impending economic catastrophe? A sense of duty, perhaps? Or fear of being Neville Chamberlain’d by the history books?

Whatever her reasons, she’s become more and more messianic in her approach, particularly when she warns of the potential consequences of a Labour government, while refusing to acknowledge the well-documented consequences of hers. Maybe May believes she can go on governing, as Sir Winston did despite losing two elections. This would be a grand delusion worthy of empire.

There’s more than a little Churchill swirl in the recent declamations of Ian Blackford, Chuka Umunna and Jacob Rees-Mogg. And of course Boris Johnson is the master of Blitzing his way to the front pages. Mark Francois’ impassioned attack on the Kaiser struck the same tone: discount statesmanship, bought in bulk from nationalism’s going-out-of-business sale.

The British people united behind Winston Churchill because there was a real war and a real enemy. There was also a real prospect of victory. Brexit has none of that. The EU is not the enemy. No kind of Brexit will be a victory, reversing it even less so. Politicians saying ‘Great Britain’ in a Churchillian tone won’t change the facts. But it will divide the country in a way never seen before. Not since Ireland declared independence have different groups of British citizens been so at odds with one another about the UK’s future. No soaring rhetoric will ease this crisis, not that any soaring rhetoric still exists.

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