The description of the Prime Ministerâ€™s plan for a Brexit Britain Festival as â€˜bizarreâ€™ was, I thought, rather too kind on her. Given that neither she nor anyone else has the faintest clue at present as to the likely outcome of Brexit, preparing at this stage to celebrate it with a festival looks more than a little foolhardy. On all foreseeable outcomes, from cancelling Brexit through remaining in the single market to crashing out with no deal, egg-on-face syndrome looks to be a near certainty. I can almost hear a room full of Sir Humphreys telling her that it would be a â€˜very brave decisionâ€™; but then listening to advice isnâ€™t exactly what sheâ€™s best at.
Apparently, it isnâ€™t even her idea â€“ it was originally put forward by a certain Mr Rees-Mogg. One would have thought that a provenance like that would be sufficient in itself to cause some very loud alarm bells to sound somewhere; he is, after all, not exactly well-known for having his finger on the pulse. As if to prove the point, when he first suggested it, he said, â€œIn the spirit of friendship of our European neighbours, upon leaving we should drink lots of champagne to say that though we may be leaving the European Union, we donâ€™t dislike Europeâ€�, thereby proving how far removed from the real lives of the rest of us he and his ilk are. (Although, if heâ€™s buyingâ€¦)
If it comes off â€“ and there has to be at least an element of doubt given the regularity with which May withdraws most of the proposals she puts forward whilst claiming that â€˜nothing has changedâ€™ â€“ it seems clear that it will be a feast of that Anglo-British nationalism-which-isnâ€™t-nationalism-at-all; a red, white and blue Brexit celebrated with red white and blue flags waved energetically at all and sundry, and especially at those beastly Europeans who seem to be determined to cut themselves off from the soon-to-be paradise of â€˜this sceptrâ€™d isleâ€™ by refusing to bow down before their betters, which I think is what the latest messages coming from Raab and Hunt are effectively saying.
Last month, the former Foreign Secretary talked about Mayâ€™s plan being like flying white flags from the UKâ€™s tanks as they move into battle against the Europeans; this week, Raab talks about getting belligerent with them for failing to back down and Hunt talks about the UK being â€˜held captiveâ€™ against its will. They act and talk as though it is the EU which has decided to leave the UK rather than the other way around. One wonders why they havenâ€™t stopped, just for one moment, to consider whether comparing the negotiations with warfare and making threats might not be the most effective form of persuasion; I suspect, though, that conflict and failure is what they actually want.
Nostalgia is a huge handicap, blinding them to the reality of the UKâ€™s place in the modern world. I keep thinking that, eventually, the Brexit process will lead to a rude awakening and will finally dislodge the sense of uniqueness and entitlement which is so characteristic of Anglo-British not-nationalism. Thus far, they just seem to double down on the fantasy that they can recreate the alleged greatness of the past, a fantasy which gives rise to the bizarre belief that a great festival will restore â€™nationalâ€™ pride. The only certainty is that when the fall comes (as surely it will) they are just giving themselves further to fall. They claim that the Prime Minister was humiliated in Brussels a fortnight ago â€“ Iâ€™m not sure that they even begin to realise what real humiliation looks like. Time will show them.