Fear, Incompetence and Calamity

You think that it cannot get worse. There must come a moment when the government will reclaim some self-respect while the Prime Minister recovers some power of leadership. After all, she is the PM. But you are wrong. There seems to be no limit to drift and indecisiveness. No-one understands what is happening; no-one knows how to put it right. Mrs May has forfeited all authority and any claim to loyalty, or even affection. She is now derided, despised and disregarded.

So why does she survive? There is only one explanation for the reluctance to switch off the life-support machine: fear. Some Tory MPs are still not convinced that Boris is politically dead. Others worry that if the PM were forced out, the government could break up, As one said over the weekend: 'Do remember. Jeremy Corbyn would be a worse Prime Minister than Theresa May.'

It is all so undignified. In its weakness, this Government has become a mere blackmailers' charter. Tory backbenchers announce their readiness to collaborate with Labour in order to prevent the Government from leaving the customs union. The Democratic Unionists wonder whether they sold their votes too cheaply. Sinn Fein make threatening noises; Tony Blair seems to be encouraging them.

On the Continent, there is widespread bewilderment. Foreigners are used to taking Britain seriously. Thatcher, Blair, Cameron: all considerable figures. John Major was much more highly regarded in Europe than he was at home. A lot of his European counterparts could not understand why the British people were failing to recognise his merits. Now, Mrs May's counterparts cannot understand what is going on in the UK. Above all, they cannot make sense of the Boris phenomenon. In the midst of crucial events, Britain could do with a first-rate Foreign Secretary. Instead, we have clownishness and frivolity - not to mention sabotage.

From the outset of the negotiations, a rational British Government should have been working towards an outcome that the Europeans would be most reluctant to concede: cherry-picking - retaining those aspects of EU membership which were beneficial to us, while discarding the rest. We should have had two principal objectives: protecting the City and retaining free trade with the EU countries. Although this would never have been easy to achieve, we had one powerful argument. Given the importance of the City to the European financial system and the size of the rest of the EU's trade surplus with us, it should have been possible to claim that these proposed trading arrangements were in everyone's interests. Then Boris makes his contribution; have cake and eat it. Thoughtful Europeans conclude that he is treating them with contempt. They should not take that personally. That is how he treats most serious subjects. But Boris's sloppy insouciance would have created difficulties, even if the UK had a proper Brexit negotiator.

Which, of course, is not the case. David Davis can neither grip the detail nor lead his department, which is becoming increasingly demoralised. So let us summarise the situation. Great issues are at stake. Vital decisions will have to be taken. Leadership is essential. Instead, the UK has an incompetent and a buffoon, lead by a hopeless ditherer. It is a disgrace, which could well turn into a calamity.

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