We have a problem. An odd little group of people – who make up with fervour and confidence what they might lack in numbers and logic – is presently touring the world of the commentariat.
Unlike most Remain campaigners, principled and reasonable people able to accept a decision contrary to their will and move on, this small band of our fellow Brits lives in a parallel universe in which things have not changed from the world before 23 June, because they do not wish them to.
From business breakfasts to morning seminars, from working lunches and TV studios to drinks receptions and industry dinners, they take their message: that Britain has no plan for Brexit, that all of the concerns held in the UK about the EU can be ameliorated, and – worst of all – that Brexit is not really going to happen anyway. You may not have heard this last, odd theory, but take it from me – it’s really being peddled.
Like the Japanese soldier battling on in the jungle into the 1950s, these people don’t know that their war is over, and they lost. But, unlike the soldier, they are listened to.
They have, or had, titles that seem impressive to trusting outsiders. They might have led a business association. They might work for a newspaper with unconventionally coloured paper. They might be a member of the House of Lords with a history of involvement with the Special Boat Service which they’ll never, ever be coerced into discussing because they’re just so modest. They speak with the sound of the insider and the well-informed – even if in truth they are on the fringe of things and only hear the braying sounds made around their north London dinner tables.
Alas, this takes some people in, especially on the Continent. The effect is to encourage the counterparty in the major negotiations we are soon to have in the belief that the UK has less resolve than it does, imbuing them with a false sense of confidence. Persisting with the contract analogy, the effect is that they are potentially pushing up the price we have to pay. They are useful idiots – but useful for the other side, not us.
This false understanding may eventually harm the other side of the negotiations, too. There’s an analogy, which shouldn’t be overdone but is worth mentioning, with the motion passed in the famous 1933 Oxford Union debate – “that this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country” – in which the other side misreads the mood of our nation.
Interestingly, unlike those students, these faded Europhiliacs are no spring chickens who might be able to claim naivety as their excuse. Instead, they’re all people who’ve been around for ages. In 1933, RB McCallum claimed that others would ask him of the Oxonian folly: “What is wrong with the younger generation?”. Now, looking at this set, we might wonder what is wrong with the older.
I do not accuse this sad band of dishonesty. They are honestly wholly misinformed and mistaken. But this is in part because they see what they wish to see, and because our country decisively ignored their dire threats and doom-laden counsel in June, what they wish to see – perversely – is their own country do badly. Try to imagine actually feeling like that. As Churchill said of those errant Oxonians before the war, “it is a very disquieting and disgusting symptom”.
The ability to distinguish between something you don’t know about and that thing necessarily not existing is a basic one that most children possess. The Prime Minister’s sensible decision not to give a “running commentary” on live negotiations may mean that the unfed media beast goes off to find its own food, but that hardly justifies the suggestion that our sovereign government isn’t able to conduct diplomatic affairs and statecraft in the usual way.
Try to remember the basics. A party had a manifesto pledge to hold a binding referendum on our membership of the EU. That party won a majority in a general election. Both Houses voted through an Act to hold the promised referendum. The referendum took place. We voted to leave the EU. After all of the debate (in which the big guns were for Remain), we decided as a nation that our concerns about the Union couldn’t be remedied or ameliorated by change within it.
So our government will now get us out of the EU on the best available terms. That’s democracy working. Life goes on. The blathering classes desperately trying for some reason to portray discussions about leaving a relatively recent protectionist customs union between neighbouring states as the sky falling in should try to hang on to these basic facts.