The English call it French leave. The French call it English leave. But the idea is the same: leaving without saying good-bye.
Theresa May and her jolly friends took the concept on and refined it: their version of Brexit is saying good-bye without leaving.
The mainstream reaction to Mrs May’s Florence speech ranges from mild approval to mild disapproval, with ‘mild’ being the operative word in either case. If you loved Cameron’s oratory, you’ll like May’s.
Those who mildly approve heave a cautious sigh of relief: it could have been a lot worse. For example, Mrs May could have suggested incorporating Britain into federal Germany as one of her provinces, possibly under the name of Anglo-Saxony.
Those who mildly disapprove share the sentiment: it could have been worse. But then it could have been better too. For example, Mrs May could have bargained them down to £15 billion. Or else she could have stood a bit firmer on the transition terms.
Outside that middle-of-road puddle of the mainstream, one hears splashing all sorts of invective aimed at Mrs May. She’s accused of a whole raft of sins, from shilly-shallying to cowardice, from crypto-socialism to downright treason.
Yet both the mainstream and the brooks flowing on either side miss the salient point about Mrs May and her jolly friends, the group I collectively call the apparat. Let me spell it out for you: THEY WANT TO REMAIN.
This regardless of their party allegiance and even – critically – of how they campaigned in the referendum. If they campaigned to leave, it was mostly for reasons of personal political advancement. Some of them might have seen rational arguments in favour of Brexit, but the inner voice of such arguments was muffled by the shriek of their viscera: I WANT TO REMAIN!
Accusing Mrs May of treason is pointless: her primary loyalty is pledged to the apparat that begat her, and to this collective entity she’s unwaveringly true.
All its members realise, rationally or intuitively, that the EU represents a logical, ineluctable extension of the very essence of modern ‘democratic’ politics, which, in turn, represents a logical, ineluctable extension of modernity.
This truly dark age of the West was adumbrated by a mass revolt against Western civilisation, aka Christendom. Incongruously named the Enlightenment, that revolt set out to do what all revolts do: overturn every certitude, assumption, presumption, prejudice, axiom – and replace them with something new-fangled. This is observable in every walk of life, including politics.
The essence of traditional politics was subsidiarity: devolving power to the lowest sensible level, from centre to periphery. Yet the vector of modern politics points in exactly the opposite direction, from periphery to centre.
This separates the ‘leaders’ from the people, thus reversing a truly (as opposed to virtually) democratic process. Rather than choosing a village mayor from a list of candidates everybody knows personally, people are supposed to choose their ‘leaders’ among those they don’t know from Adam.
Effectively this means they vote not for the better of two candidates but for the cheesier of two waffles, especially if it’s accompanied by a photogenic appearance. This is guaranteed to elevate to government those unfit to govern, nonentities seeking self-aggrandisement.
They seek to remove every remaining bit of power from the local, truly democratic bodies that stay close to the voters, and transfer it to the centralised apparat, claiming all the time that the people are governing themselves.
This is a gift that keeps on giving: modern unchecked democracy leads to ever-increasing centralisation, and for that reason it’s wrong to complain, as today’s conservatives do, that growing centralisation undermines democracy. That’s like saying that pregnancy undermines sex.
Yet at some point the distance between the apparat and its subjects can’t grow any greater. The apparat has acquired its own inner imperative to expand, but its growth is constricted by the physical dimensions of the country.
Logic then dictates that, to increase and perpetuate its power, the apparat has to cross national boundaries, becoming not only stronger than the people but also bigger and more detached. This explains the European Union, a corrupt setup designed to absolve the apparat of even vestigial accountability.
The EU is the ultimate expression of the very essence of modern ‘democratic’ politics. Or rather the penultimate one: it’s the anteroom to world government.
Only the cleverer members of the apparat understand this rationally, but they all feel it in their bone marrow. That’s why, whatever they claim in public, privately they all want to torpedo Brexit – not because they feel this would serve public interest, but because Brexit is a challenge to the power of the apparat, indeed an existential threat to its very survival.
That’s why the apparatchiks have closed ranks to resist this threat, and whatever squabbles they’re reported to be having are either purely tactical or simply window dressing.
Obviously no one will come out and say that, referendum or no referendum, we should stay in the EU because the people have made a mistake. That would shatter the make-believe of self-government, thereby breaking the rules by which the virtual reality game is played.
Hence even those who, like May, campaigned against Brexit have to claim that the will of the people is sacrosanct. After all, 17.4 million of us voted for Brexit, more than have ever voted for anything else.
Yet a game shouldn’t be allowed to impinge on real life. And in real life they want to procrastinate as much as possible in the hope that Brexit will lose momentum. Make no mistake about it: popular will is fickle.
Given enough time, any number of mines could derail Brexit, turning the people against it. For example, if, or rather when, a severe economic downturn occurs, it could be blamed on Brexit – even before Brexit is a reality.
In fact, everything could be blamed on Brexit, including bad weather, traffic jams and the stale beer at the King’s Head. Various Jacks will pop out of the box, probably led by the emetic Tony Blair. “We told you so,” they’ll hiss, Iago whispering into Othello’s ear. “But not to worry: you have every right to change your opinion, the way so many others have.”
Every passing day makes such a development possible. Every passing year makes it likely, especially since the referendum has effectively destroyed any organised, institutional resistance by making Ukip ostensibly redundant and plunging it into chaos.
None dare call it conspiracy, and in fact none should. A conspiracy involves conscious action, a meeting of minds, a banging of heads together. Nothing like that is necessary here: the apparat is like a pack of wolves who don’t depend on collusion to stick together. The need to do so is encoded into their DNA – as the need to stay in the EU is encoded into the DNA of the apparat.
This is the salient point to be taken out of Mrs May’s speech, serendipitously delivered in Florence, that cradle of political perfidy. The affection she professed for the EU wasn’t a diplomatic manoeuvre; everything else was.
Brexit may or may not happen. But if you think it has already happened, you may be in for a let-down. I for one don’t hold my breath.