I’ve never seen a political mess to match what’s going on in Britain today, and I lived in the US during Watergate.
The mess doesn’t even rate the soubriquet of crisis – it’s that much of a mess. And in all such situations language falls one of the first victims.
Suddenly conservatives, so called because they want to conserve something, in this case Britain’s constitution, are described as extremists, romantics or idealists.
Those who sling that kind of mud obviously see national sovereignty as an unachievable ideal – indeed making those who stubbornly cling to it wild-eyed romantics.
But British independence is no more unachievable or idealistic than, say, my becoming a British subject. After all, that’s exactly what I did become in 1992.
Analogously, it so happens that until that year Britain had indeed been independent for the better part of 2,000 years. If something exists for so long in reality, striving to restore it still may be foolhardy or anything else one cares to call it.
What it absolutely can’t be is romantic, unrealistic or unachievable. Those who cherish Britain’s constitutional integrity are more appropriately called realists, conservatives – or patriots, if you’d rather.
It’s a matter of semantics and therefore of clear thinking. By all means sling mud if you must, but do try not to sully yourself with the dirt of stupidity in the process.
Then there are people like Edward Lucas, who contribute the word ‘Europhile’ to the semantic gallimaufry – and to think that he’s one of our few columnists who think straight on Russia.
“I am a lifelong Europhile; my two sons work for Our Future Our Choice, the youth wing of the campaign for a second referendum, or People’s Vote,” he writes. “My heart swells with pride and sympathy.”
Mr Lucas’s heart should really swell with shame at this abject failure at parenting, but his offspring and how he raises them are his business. On the other hand, his debauchery of English hurts us all.
Mr Lucas reminds me of a friend with whom I sometimes have coffee after tennis. This nice Englishman also calls himself a Europhile (presumably to distinguish from my Europhobe), which to my pedantic ear sounds like he loves Europe.
Yet in all his 60-odd years he has only crossed the Channel a couple of times and not at all for decades. He doesn’t speak any continental languages, doesn’t know much of European history or culture and has no interest in European philosophy or religion.
In other words, his passion for Europe remains unconsummated, a bit like a man who loves women but has never slept with one. My presumptive hatred of Europe, on the other hand, manifests itself in peculiar ways.
I cross the Channel a dozen times a year, spend half my time on the continent – and tick all those boxes above that my friend would leave blank. Thus I feel justified in rejecting the charge of Europhobia and instead levelling it at my friend.
But of course he and Mr Lucas neither mean that they love Europe nor that people like me hate it. They mean they love the EU and we don’t. Which is another way of saying they see no value to preserving Britain’s constitutional and political integrity.
Thus their Europhilia is neither cultural nor ethnographic, but political. Now I could offer quite a few terms to describe those who wish to undermine their country’s sovereignty and pledge allegiance to a foreign entity with no political mandate in Britain, nor any affection for it.
However, most of those terms would be incendiary, and my purpose today is to untangle the linguistic mess, not to singe it with fire. Suffice it to say that Mr Lucas confirms my cherished bias towards converts from the extreme Left: they can’t really convert.
One can change one’s intellectual opinions but not one’s gonadal temperament, and the Left-Right divide has more to do with the latter than with the former.
And then there’s another term that adds to the confusion: pragmatism. This word is supposed to distinguish the British from fiery continental ideologues.
The British deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, or so the story goes. As applied to the sub-plot of Brexit, the story acquires new twists from both ends, Leave and Remain.
The latter sigh fulsomely and bemoan the unsolvable difficulties of Brexit. Yes, they say with differently human Blairite expressions, the referendum went the wrong way.
But that’s because the electorate had been duped into voting without first considering the insurmountable barriers firmly in place. Now we’ve had two post-referendum years, we’ve seen how high and infinitely numerous those barriers are.
So let’s be pragmatic about it: we can’t leave without a deal, and the deal Mrs May has managed to wrench out of the EU is rotten.
Hence, in our new pragmatic incarnation, we must either vote again and keep doing so until we get it right or, better still, forget the whole ungodly non-pragmatic mess and stay in the EU. The EU is magnanimous enough to take the prodigal son back into the family, having first spanked him pour encourager les autres.
These chaps forget to mention that all the mind-bending problems of Brexit are mostly of their own making. Such problems aren’t force majeure; they are products of wicked human agency.
At play here is the trick routinely uncorked by cynical political nonentities. First, they do something indescribably stupid or even seditious (destroy the economy, start a war they can’t win, enter into unconstitutional treaties or whatnot). Then they issue a call to the banners of pragmatism: yes, we’re in trouble, they say. Yet the world is what it is; we must learn to live with it.
But the world wasn’t what it is before this lot made it so. They couldn’t do things right and now they regret they can’t do things over. Hypocrisy comes together with cynicism to produce a foul result.
But Leavers, such as the ever-sage Stephen Glover, can also bandy pragmatism about with the best, or rather the worst, of them.
They converge with the Remainers in agreeing that we can’t leave without a deal, much as we’d want to. But do let’s be pragmatic about this: Parliament will never go along with no-deal, and time is running short.
Time wouldn’t be running short if we hadn’t wasted two years on Oliver Twist-like supplicancy, begging our European masters to be kind, whereas all they want is to punish us, discourage others and, ideally, torpedo Brexit.
A PM committed to Brexit, rather than to the warped ruling elite, could have invoked the Royal Prerogative, left immediately after Parliament activated Article 50 – and only then started negotiating ‘deals’.
Now those pragmatic Leavers jump through the same hoops as their Remainer friends from Groucho’s and the Arts Club, saying well, alas, the deal Mrs May has secured may be awful but it’s the only one on the table.
Either we go along with it or risk having no Brexit at all – with the extra benefit of getting the kind of Trotskyist government Mr Glover would hate, and Mr Lucas would have loved as a young man but not any longer.
Sorry, there’s so much more I could add, but the emetic impulse is getting too strong. Or, to put it in the idiom of my down-to-earth friends, this mess makes me want to puke.