It was as revealing as it was, seemingly, out of character. Conservative Eurosceptic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg does a dependable line in being quaintly courteous during his frequent interventions on the vexing issue of Brexit, so when he lost his temper last week and threw a tantrum over the prospect of further delays to the UK’s departure from the EU, he revealed a side of him we don’t usually see.
It was not a pleasant spectacle.
If a Brexit delay meant the UK being – thanks to the need for us to participate in May’s European elections – “stuck” in the EU, then it would be incumbent on our representatives in Strasbourg to be “as difficult as possible”. Rees-Mogg suggested such wheezes as a veto on any increase in EU budgets, the obstruction of any moves towards the creation of an EU army and a block on what he described as French president Emmanuel Macron’s “integrationist schemes”.
As is the norm with a frustrated hard-Brexiteer, Rees-Mogg lashes out at others when things don’t go his way. The frightfully polite gentleman schtick evaporates and the teeth are bared beneath that stiff upper lip.
Pro-Brexit politicians and campaigners would, it seems, never dream of asking themselves whether they might bear any personal responsibility for the situation in which the nation now finds itself.
They campaigned in the 2016 referendum on the promises (or lies, depending on your stomach for this stuff) that the NHS would prosper and the rest of the world would beat down the UK’s door to lavish us with trade deals.
They told us that departure from the EU would be straightforward and painless, predicting negotiations carried through on a warm pillow of bonhomie. And they told us the country would unite behind its new “independent status”.
Cynically deflecting every legitimate question as part of a Project Fear strategy, Brexiteers double down on their claims. The problem with anyone who dared to suggest that Brexit mightn’t usher in a new era of British prosperity was that they just didn’t believe.
Meaningless stuff, of course. A crisis is a crisis no matter what one believes.
Rees-Mogg’s fellow travellers on the Hard Brexit right now say that democracy has been betrayed by the failure of the UK to have left the EU on schedule. The current delay – which looks likely to be extended – and the prospect of the UK having then to participate in May’s European elections has pushed some already furiously angry people closer to the edge. Phasers have been set to maximum outrage.
“Forgive them father for they know not what they do,” said Mark Francois, the puffed-up little red-faced Tory MP who’s begun appearing on TV every day in order, it would appear, to display the many and varied ways in which he is a buffoon.
We were dangerously close to “Jesus would have voted Leave” territory here. But that’s the hysterical crank-right for you.
Rees-Mogg, Francois, the whole whining lot of them, are not the victims of others out to get them. They have not fallen foul of a sinister EU plot or been thwarted by a conspiracy against democracy.
The truth is that they and all of the other snake oil salesmen who punted a painless Brexit have been caught out by their own lies. It is as simple as that.
During the 2016 campaign, these politicians – and other scoundrels like Boris Johnson – steered away from facts and depended on the emotional response of voters. It was all Take Back Control! and promises of endless sunlit uplands.
Nobody who campaigned to Remain is responsible for the fact Leavers relied on unicorn-land fantasies of prosperity to make their case.
Brexiteers sneered at the suggestion the EU might not give the UK everything it demanded during departure negotiations. We held so many cards, they said, that our European neighbours would do whatever it took to secure a deal.
Now that we know for a fact that the EU has negotiated with the best interests of the EU in mind – fancy that – Brexiteers complain that the UK should have been more forceful.
In the fevered fantasies of your Mark Francoises, a Brexiteering hard-man should have walked into those negotiations, slammed his fist on the table and told the whole damned lot of ’em how things were going to be.
Rees-Mogg and his cronies in the European Research Group tell us a story of a United Kingdom forced to bend the knee by Europe. In their fantasy, a once-proud Britain is dictated to by the EU. Stripped of influence and power, Britannia has been brought to her knees by unrelated mandarins with their spiteful diktats.
Yet, the Rees-Mogg strop suggests to me he knows full well the tale of British subjugation is nonsense. If the UK could go ahead and cause the chaos he wishes to see, doesn’t that rather suggest we have a great deal more influence in the European Union than Brexiteers would like us to think?
As they get angrier, Brexiteers’ language becomes more dangerous. We’ve heard the accusations of betrayal and treachery, we’ve seen the way some MPs have been singled out for protests by mobs who buy into the lie that the chaos of Brexit represents nothing less than contempt for democracy.
This is ugly stuff and I fear things may get much worse.
If they do, then those who promised a Brexit that appears – as the nation was frequently warned – to be undeliverable will, I am sure, wring their hands and complain about elites and their contempt for voters. But they cannot continue to outrun their culpability for where we now find ourselves – a bitterly divided Britain that’s become an international laughing stock.
Leave campaigners lied and swaggered their way through the 2016 referendum and reality has bitten them, hard. They – and they alone – must take responsibility for the chaos engulfing the Brexit process.