On the weekend of the Trump inauguration I took the weekend off writing - which is quite unusual for me. As a political animal you might think I would be glued to the media absorbing events as they unfold. But then why bother? We know Trump is to be president and a shindig for his commencement as president is nothing out of the ordinary. Nor are the petulant protests which always follow a Republican victory.
We are told by the great and the good that Trump’s election marks a dangerous turning of events. I don’t deny that an unhinged and functionally illiterate president is not encouraging but it’s hardly unprecedented. The last hundred years has had its share of crooks and idiots in the White House. What’s one more?
More to the point, Britain and Europe has a bigger problem to worry about. Trump is only for four years. Brexit is for keeps. In many respects stupidity doesn’t worry me too much. Stupidity can be predicted and mitigated. While the US Congress is Republican, for the time being, they are not all behind the Trump agenda and the president will not have his own way for very long. If there is anyone who should chill us to the bone it is Theresa May.
Regular readers of this column will know that I am not the biggest fan of the EU. I voted to leave. I think that any temporary economic setback is the price we pay for having given up control to the EU, but my vote to leave the EU most certainly wasn’t an open invitation for the Tories to do as they please.
For those unfamiliar with the Brexit process, Britain leaves the EU by notifying the EU of our intention to leave. Legally that compels the EU to negotiate an exit settlement. The catch though is that there must be an agreement within two years or there is a very real risk of being ejected from the EU with no agreement at all.
Given that the EU governs everything from trade to fishing, air travel, medicines and food safety there was never any realistic prospect of negotiating a settlement in two years. The best we could ever hope for was a framework agreement which would still require a long transition. This would need to be based on existing agreements between the EU and other non-EU countries.
The pragmatic and sensible way to leave the EU would have been to stay in the single market in order to buy us time to take a more careful approach. Theresa May however thinks differently. She believes that all of this can be negotiated from scratch in just two years despite no similar agreement having taken less than eight years.
Now you can argue that Mrs May is at times misinformed or that her policies are horribly illiberal but by no measure can you say that she is a stupid woman. What we are dealing with here is pure political cowardice in refusing to stand up to her lunatic fringe combined with a typically British arrogance assuming that the world will bend to our delusions. Hubris is a far more damaging force than stupidity.
Worse still Mrs May thinks that it is better to have no deal than a bad deal. Superficially this sounds sensible but not when you consider that the UK has been a leading member of the EU for nearly half a century. One does not simply disengage from such an arrangement at the stroke of a pen.
Were she to walk away from the table it would invalidate all of our trade agreements not just with the EU but also the ones we have with outer countries via the EU. Trade would grind to a halt overnight. As much as it would have deep repercussions for the UK it would likely damage the EU as well. Some on May's back benches believe such an approach could even kill the EU – and consider any price a price worth paying to those ends. That though is insanity on stilts. It’s one thing to want to leave the EU. It’s another to want to destroy it.
Whatever Trump may have in mind, the possible consequences of Theresa May’s arrogance would have far more profound and lasting effects. As it happens I believe that Trump will only serve one term and is foolish enough to fall foul of the law in that time leading to his possible impeachment. There are ways and means of dealing with a bad president. There is nothing to stop our prime minister though – and Brexit cannot be undone.
In effect the Tories are frog-marching us toward an accidental scorched earth policy where Britain stands humiliated with only a handful of useless bilateral deals to protect our modesty. What could have been an orderly transition is likely to be a political mess the likes of which we have not seen since the eighties.
There is no doubt that Britain can weather the storm and we can recover - but it will take a lot longer than it should, and the pain we will experience will have been entirely avoidable. It will likely see a decade of political turmoil in which all of our assumptions will be turned upside down.
It would seem that before Britain becomes a "global Britain" we are going to spend a decade or more of navel gazing, out in the wilderness, while we learn what this country really believes. Perhaps though, that is what we really do need? Perhaps that really is the medicine. Maybe this really is the price to pay for having buried our politics deep inside the back rooms of Brussels and withdrawing from the world.
Maybe this is the price we must pay for the hubris of Heath, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown. Just another chapter in our dismal tradition of having politicians doing as they please. Maybe this time we will do something about it?
If there is anything positive to take from a botched Brexit it is that the revolution will eat its children. By that measure I ought to be salivating at the prospect of the Tories hitting the rocks. Recent events have seen the party created by Blair utterly eradicated – and that's a good thing. For complete renewal the same must happen to the Conservative Party which to a large extent is still run by the same establishment behind Mrs Thatcher. Davis, Redwood, Jenkins, Johnson and May etc were products of the Thatcher government and their supporting cast in this Brexit trainwreck were the up and coming Toryboys of the era.
If there is to be a new economic era and a new politics then as much as leaving the EU is necessary then it also follows that the Tories, the party that did this to us in the first place, must also be destroyed. I suppose any price is worth paying for that outcome. Just an awful pity we must sacrifice a good deal of wealth to make it happen.
That though, I don't suppose, will keep the people of Stoke on Trent or Sunderland awake at night. I can't say I blame them. Maybe dispensing with our garbage is what really secures our future leadership role in the world. Since they handle everything else as badly as they will Brexit, what have we got to lose? Might as well stop worrying and break out the popcorn.
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