In years to come, historians will look back at the ruins of the country that was once the United Kingdom and wonder what brought about its spectacular and stunning collapse. As they pick their way through the rubble, they will eventually end up in the strange and barren period that we are now living through, in which there is almost nothing that we seem able to do except watch as one of the greatest collection of fools, frauds, fakes incompetents that has ever led the British state leads the country towards disaster with the gleeful insouciance of a drunk batsman tottering out to the wicket to take a wild swing at any ball that moves.
Yesterday, for example, Theresa May had the unbelievable gall to accuse Nicola Sturgeon of ‘playing politics’ with the country’s future, as if she would never dream of doing such a thing. And today, the pitiful David Davis admitted that the government has no contingency plan for leaving the EU without a deal, even though Theresa May only recently insisted that leaving the EU with no deal would be better than leaving it with a bad deal. How could she be so sure, if she hadn’t actually assessed what might happen? We don’t know, and she obviously doesn’t know either. Yet that didn’t stop her promising to inflict on the country what she didn’t know, regardless of the consequences, and there is little indication that those who voted to leave want to know, or even know that they don’t know.
This is the terrifying dynamic that the country is now trapped in. It unfolds day after day, gathering pace and idiocy with each passing week. There appears to be nothing that anyone can do to stop it. Today, a report from the construction industry predicted the loss of 200,000 construction jobs. Since the Referendum there has been a 90 percent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to the UK and there are nowhere near enough nurses to replace them.
Try and stop this – or even try to allow parliament to actually look in detail at what the unelected PM is planning – and you are likely to be dismissed as a ‘Remoaner’ and ‘whinger’ or even a ‘traitor’ who has defied the ‘will of the people’.
With hindsight historians may be able to understand how this incredible disaster was allowed to happen. And when they sift through the fanaticism, the arrogance, the glassy-eyed optimism, the flagwaving jingoism and the sheer stupidity and destructive malevolence of the political class that made it happen, they may well discover something called Empire 2.0.
This apparently is the name that Whitehall civil servants have given to the government’s proposal to reinvent the Commonwealth as a post-EU substitute for the EU. Liam Fox, the sleazy spiv who should never have been allowed to take office yet has inexplicably become trade secretary, does not like this terminology, saying ‘It’s a phrase I find slightly offensively caricaturing. So it’s not a phrase I would use.’
No one could caricature Fox and his colleagues better than they do themselves, but Empire 2.0 is in fact a very good shorthand explanation for what is taking place. Empire 2.0 sounds like Hawaii 5.0 and for these clowns it is just as thrilling, or ‘terribly exciting’ as Nigel Farage put it. Because one of the main reasons why this country is now preparing to commit collective national suicide is because it once had an empire and it has still not got used to the fact that it does not have one.
Like the woman on Question Time who insisted that Britain ruled as ‘the light of the world’ for ‘thousand of years’, the British political class, and a significant percentage of its population believes that the British empire was great and it cannot get used to the fact that it no longer great.
This is a country haunted and poisoned by imperial nostalgia and imperial amnesia. It’s a country that has tried to cling onto greatness by stacking up nuclear weapons so that it can sit at the big table at the UN; above all by kidding itself that it was acting like ‘Greece to Rome’ in its servile and subordinate relationship with the United States and its willingness to ride shotgun with every lunatic American military adventure.
But despite all this, the country senses that it is not great as it once was or has it should be. It remembers a time when the tables of the world ate with British steel, when gunboats were there to remind dodgy foreigners and governments trying to prevent their populations from becoming opium addicts of their duties and responsibilities.
Now we have to abide by the rules of an organisation – the EU – that we willingly joined, and so we tell ourselves that the EU is a new ‘Reich’ and that we are living under the ‘dictatorship of Brussels.’
Having foreigners tell us what to do is bad enough, but the real indicator of our fall from greatness is the presence of foreigners inside ‘our’ borders. It was alright once for us to emigrate to any country that took our fancy and conquer countries that opposed us – immigrants were not supposed to come here, at least not in such numbers that they became noticeable. They were not supposed to walk around our streets and SPEAK THEIR OWN LANGUAGES.
For too many of our countrymen, such things are unacceptable. And that is why we had to leave the EU. That’s why we want Empire 2.0 to restore our links with our old friends from the Commmonwealth who once belonged to Empire 1.0, because we are a ‘great trading nation’ and great trading nations can do what they like even if they can’t.
It’s no good pointing out that countries that replace a rational and thoughtful analysis of their actual possibilities and prospects in the real world with fantasies are not going to get very far. You can try to explain that leaving the single market and falling back on WTO rules is a catastrophic error. People like Fox, who believe in the ‘tremendous opportunities opportunities to importers and exporters from across the whole Commonwealth, a genuinely win-win situation’, will never listen. They will never change their minds, never think twice, never allow even the shadow of a doubt to drift across the bright horizon.
They remember when we were great and they know we can be great again. For them, every precipice is a chance to fly. Unfortunately, too many people share the same belief, and they will probably continue to share it, long after we hit the ground, and the bubble of Empire 2.0 floats out of reach, and bursts above their heads.