One distinguishing feature of today’s politics is its puerile intellectual content.
If you wish to contest this observation, consider how the Brexit debates are conducted on both sides. Or if you wish to narrow the sample down, look at Boris Johnson’s speech.
Mr Johnson set out to reconcile the irreconcilable: leaving and remaining. The two aren’t just semantic opposites – they’re mutually exclusive existentially.
Just imagine a woman telling her husband at a party that she didn’t really want to come in the first place because his friends are all drunken louts and their wives are all sluts, and now that everyone is well and truly pissed it’s time to go home before somebody pukes on her dress.
At this point they either leave or, if the husband puts his foot down, stay. What they can’t do is find an accommodation between the two options. It’s an either… or proposition, not both… and.
Yet Mr Johnson, with his supposedly gigantic intellect, tried to put forth an argument that defied Euclid and vindicated Lobachevsky. Parallel lines can converge. It’s possible to get out and still stay in.
Typical of politicians, including those blessed with a gigantic intellect, he said many things that go without saying and didn’t say things that must be said.
Falling in the former category is Mr Johnson’s Solomonic assurance that we don’t need to be so bolshie as to renounce all EU regulations wholesale. If some of them benefit us post-Brexit, he explained, we can keep them – provided it’s our decision and not the EU’s.
Does this mean that, if the EU mandates that one must have an umbrella when going out on a rainy day, we’ll comply because it’s a jolly good idea? We won’t get drenched just to spite the EU? Good to know.
Thanks, Boris, for making this clear: some of our regulations will inevitably coincide with the EU’s. And, if a political body issues thousands of regulations, dozens of them will make sense on statistical probability. Now tell us something we don’t know.
Then he spun out the economic argument in favour of leaving, which always gets my dander up. We won’t become more insular as a result of Brexit, promised Mr Johnson. Quite the opposite: Britain will “go global”.
Considering the retaliatory measures threatened by the EU, which amount to trade war, we’ll pretty much have to, won’t we? Otherwise we’ll have no one to trade with.
The EU mendaciously describes itself as a free-trade zone, whereas in fact it’s a protectionist bloc. It’s as if we’d slap tariffs on all foreign trade, while having none on trade between Somerset and Gloucestershire, and then boast that this proves our commitment to free trade.
Are we going to be better off by reducing our trade with the EU while acquiring greater liberty to pursue it elsewhere? Possibly. Possibly not. I don’t really know and neither does anybody else, including our pundit cum foreign secretary.
The difference between him and me is that I don’t really care. Or rather I do, but not in the context of this discussion.
The moment this debate is dragged into economics, it stops being intelligent and becomes ideological. Because no one can really predict the economic consequences of Brexit, the door is open wide enough to drive an ideological juggernaut through.
I remember the pathetic arguments in the run-up to the referendum, with one side arguing that Brexit would cost each family £457 a year, with the other side countering that, contrary to those malicious miscalculations, every family would be £429 better off.
The precise numerals were supposed to add weight to the argument, succeeding only in derailing the train of sound thought. Irrelevant if true, would have been the proper response. Go on crunching numbers if such is your wont, as long as we understand that this has nothing to do with the issue at hand.
What Mr Johnson should have said, but didn’t, is that Brexit isn’t a cheese that can be either hard or soft. At issue isn’t relative wealth and poverty but absolute sovereignty.
On this there can be no compromise and no reconciliation. Either Britain regains her sovereignty or she becomes a province in a single European state bossed by the likes of my friend Junk (as Jean-Claude Juncker insists I call him).
The other day Junk had one too many, as he does every day, and denied any intention to create such a state. Nothing is further from our mind, declared Junk, blurring his words ever so slightly.
He has to be right on that. Single European state? Perish the thought. All Junk and his jolly friends want is a single currency, single set of laws, single army, single foreign and economic policy, single immigration rules and – above all – a single president. But a single state? Never.
The only thing that emerges with crystal clarity out of this exchange is that Boris wants to be a future Prime Minister of Britain and Junk doesn’t want to be just a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Worthy ambitions, both, but again neither has anything to do with anything.
What Mr Johnson should have said, but didn’t, is that of course we care about the economic well-being of the British people. But 17 million Britons didn’t vote for Brexit because they wanted to become rich. They did so because they wanted to become free.
So by all means, let’s talk about trade, free or otherwise or anything in between, but only after the only relevant aspect of Brexit has been settled: sovereignty.
This, according to the will of the British people, must be regained, and the only way to do so is to leave the EU effective immediately. Not in two years. Not even in a year. Now.
That done, do let’s have friendly and, one hopes, productive talks about trade, regulations, immigration or the relative merits of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. But first things first.
One tell-tale sign of an intellect, especially a gigantic one, is the ability to strip a seemingly complex issue down to its core and express this in clear terms. The ability to spin out waffle that obfuscates without elucidating doesn’t quite qualify.