I tend to see the excruciating Brexit process as a national collective physical and mental breakdown, the result of the accumulation of many factors over a period of 104 years. Brexit is the arterial sclerosis of Britain's political economy. The bloodstream of the nation has been coagulating since 1914 and we have eventually exhausted all available treatment.
Brexit has become something to observe rather than a political event to which one might, as in the past, usefully offer a tuppence worth. Sure there have, and will continue to be, plenty of tuppences injected into or otherwise consumed by the body of the patient, but they will become stuck in the narrowing veins. Our social media has contributed mightily to this clogging up with tuppences, including the increasingly anxious ranting of Anna Soubry, the cold but vapid cynicism of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the utterly pointless but laudable common sense of Nicola Sturgeon, the anonymous mother of someone's Twitter acquaintance who believes 'No Deal' to mean that Britain will not be leaving the EU, and the equally anonymous guy on LBC who vehemently wants to leave so that we can keep our iconic three-pin plug.
Yes, Brexit is a veritable festival of Britain, stuffed to the rafters with exhibits of every timeless British eccentricity and passionately drained of all useful intellectual content.
The prime minister's current strategy to let the blood flow once more and break the deadlock seems to have been to give everyone time, over the Christmas holiday, to consider the consequences of rejecting her proposed deal with the EU. So, for her the choice is between either her profoundly reviled agreement or sailing out into the unprotected commercial oceans of the world without any kind of understanding with our ex-trading partners and no new agreements with anyone else. Mrs May offers us partly-clothed or entirely naked in her vision of Britain's future.
Apparently incapable of any form of reasoned discussion, the prime minister instead threatens the entire country with vast levels of spending to prepare the government for the realities of 'No Deal,' the horrors of shortages, the return of rationing, the catastrophic collapse of our public services, the loss of countless jobs in failing industries and unaffordable services, the cutting of our energy supplies and the blocking of our roads at customs posts and, the pièce de résistance, the return of civil war in Ireland.
Clearly all of these things are enough to 'frighten the French,' as my mother used to say – a phrase concocted at the time of the Napoleonic wars. She also used to say, when there was a downturn in good fortune, that things were 'in a worse state than China,' referring to the Middle Kingdom's chaotic period of civil war and invasion by the Japanese. And she would be right on both counts if we include drones at our airports and our permanently red balance (or imbalance) of trade. However, I suspect that Mrs May's gamble on her catastrophic worst case scenario might just backfire.
I've read many examples of enthusiastic Brexiteers expressing the belief that the British are at their best when their backs are against the wall, when things simply could not get worse. Mrs May's theatre of horrors could not be any worse than civil war China, and we certainly, by 1815, frightened the French. Now is therefore exactly what many Brexiteers have been waiting for, to awake and once more throw off the yoke of foreign tyranny.
Did we not stand alone against Hitler when Europe surrendered at Dunkirk? (No, because we were still at the head of the greatest empire the world has ever seen at the time. Hardly alone, but never mind.) Did we not endure terrible hardship after the war and retain our position as one of the world's great trading nations? (No, we had to let the empire go, became the sick man of Europe, and were obliged to call in the International Monetary Fund in 1976, not long after confirming our membership of the EEC. But never mind that either.)
The point is that Brexiteers don't fear 'No Deal' because the Somme, Dunkirk, the Blitz, the sinking of the Hood, and the fall of Singapore prove, beyond all doubt, that Britain thrives only in its darkest hour. So bring on rationing, power-cuts, poverty, blood-stained hospital corridors, inoperable airports and impassable motorways, because that is what we have been missing in this barmy, plucky little country of ours since the blessed 'Winter of Discontent.' That is what makes us strong. Indeed, the recent chaos at Gatwick may, with hindsight, be seen as something to cherish. No back has ever been pressed against a higher wall.
Mrs May might have been better to focus more forcefully on the benefits of her deal rather than trying to scare people with the consequences of the alternative. Unless there are no
benefits in her deal.