The Guardian view on May’s Brexit deal: it’s over, but what’s next? –Editorial


January 16, 2019

The Guardian view on May’s Brexit deal: it’s over, but what’s next?

https:// http://www.the guardian.com

The PM leads a party that is divided and a country stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for war. She needs to humbly reach out to her opponents and find a way to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU in weeks.

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Theresa May addresses parliament after the vote on her Brexit deal. Photograph:  Mark Duffy/AP

The overwhelming and decisive rejection by MPs of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union is a shattering blow to the authority of the prime minister. She has spent two years negotiating a deal, which in substance was the opposite of what she said she wanted in public, only to see it repudiated by parliament. Her minority government has now been defeated on no fewer than 28 occasions

 Britain is leaving the EU in weeks and Mrs May leads a cabinet that is hopelessly split, a party that is riven with disagreements and a country that is deeply divided. So emphatic is the Commons historic rebuff that Mrs May’s deal is finished. Mrs May lost by 230 votes – the greatest defeat of a government ever. The scale of the opposition means it is not credible Mrs May could bring the motion back to the Commons, modified with a few tweaks from Brussels, and hope for success a second time round.

We do not have to settle for the Hobson’s choice of the May deal or no deal. The trouble is the Tory party is split between those who want a deal and those who do not. Mrs May has intensified the divisions within her party, rather than resolve them. She chose to start negotiations over Brexit not with the EU but with her own hardliners.

The red lines Mrs May subsequently set made it impossible for her to get a deal that would bring her fractious party together, let alone reach out to her political opponents. Her agreement ended up shaped by Mrs May’s obsession with immigration and placating Brexit extremists. The result is a “blindfold Brexit” –where almost everything about the future relationship with Europe is up in the air for two more years. It required a leap of faith to place trust in a prime minister who, the Commons wisely decided, deserved very little.

In the current circumstances, there is no majority in parliament for any of the alternative Brexit deals. This could lead to a disaster: Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. That is why MPs must remove it as an option.

Labour has triggered a vote of no confidence in the government but is unlikely to win. That points to the need for a mechanism to allow a Commons majority to take control of the Brexit process. This would require innovation, of the kind seen last week, so committees can be empowered and laws brought forward. But to have other options would require asking the EU for more time. It requires parliamentary cooperation of the kind hitherto unseen.

Jeremy Corbyn and Mrs May ought not to stand in the way of such dealings. Constitutional devices such as citizens’ assemblies, raised by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, and another referendum would allow leaders to hold their parties together and provide legitimacy for whatever the public decides. These are not denials of democracy but a reinforcement of it.

Mrs May’s decision to put party politics ahead of national interest means this country will aimlessly drift as the government attempts to recast a withdrawal agreement. An absence of leadership can lead to a sense of panic, one inflated by a government stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for a war.

We need to end the chaos and division that have done so much to disfigure our country. The question we face is whether there can be a durable relationship between Brexit Britain and the EU, which allows both to cooperate on the basis of shared interests and values. Mrs May left it far too late to accept the costs of leaving, preferring to pander to MPs whose snake-oil sales pitch is that there will not be any cost associated with Brexit at all. “Having your cake and eating it” is the Brexiter attitude that encapsulates this inability to think in terms of costs and benefits.

Yet coming clean about these things is necessary to move forward. The country now faces a situation without precedent in its constitutional history: how to reconcile the sovereignty of the people with the sovereignty of parliament.

The prime minister has been humbled into admitting she needs to win her opponents over. The Brexit vote was driven by stagnant wages, regional disparities and a soulless form of capital accumulation. These were not caused by the EU, nor will they be solved by leaving it. Only policies enacted by purposeful government can do that. Mrs May has not provided either.

 

BreXit–GOD Save May


January 17,2019

BreXit–GOD Save May

LONDON — Ahead of a vote on her Brexit plan that could go down to a humiliating defeat in Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain was fighting on Monday less to avert the loss than to limit its scale.

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In that vein, Mrs. May enlisted fresh promises from Europe’s most senior officials through an exchange of letters and warned supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union that the whole project would be threatened if her deal was voted down as expected.

Neither tactic looked likely to change the overall outcome, but if Mrs. May can curb the magnitude of any defeat to manageable proportions, she could avert an immediate political meltdown. That, given the precarious state of events, would be a victory of sorts.

Speaking in a ceramics factory in Stoke-on-Trent, an area that voted heavily to leave the European Union, Mrs. May warned that Britain’s failure to withdraw from the bloc would risk “a subversion of the democratic process” and do “catastrophic harm” to faith in politics.

Though she carefully refused to rule it out, Mrs. May insisted that she has no intention of seeking to extend the negotiating deadline of March 29 laid down under Article 50 of the European Union’s treaty.

Even in defeat, Mrs. May wants to show that, in a Parliament paralyzed over Brexit, her plan still has more support than likely alternatives, like negotiating closer ties to the European Union, rethinking Brexit altogether through a second referendum or leaving without any deal at all.

The stakes are high because a crushing defeat in the vote on Tuesday could destroy Mrs. May’s strategy of keeping her plan alive in the hope that, as other options falter, lawmakers will support hers out of desperation.

A severe loss, meaning by more than 100 votes in Parliament, would reduce prospects of Britain’s winning further concessions from European Union officials. They are loath to give ground unless it seems like Mrs. May needs only a small push to get over the finish line. A loss of historic proportions might make her position untenable, forcing her resignation.

Lawmakers are preparing for a moment of parliamentary high drama on Tuesday. In one prominent example, Tulip Siddiq, a member of the opposition Labour Party, told the Evening Standard newspaper that she had ignored medical advice and postponed her cesarean section by two days in order to vote in person.

The last time a government was defeated by more than 100 votes is thought to have been in October 1924, when, academics say, a minority government led by James Ramsay MacDonald went down to a defeat of 166 over its abandonment of the prosecution of a left-wing newspaper, prompting a general election.

Mrs. May faces a rebellion from many of her own lawmakers who are angry about the so-called “backstop” plan to keep the Irish border open for the free flow of goods after Britain leaves the bloc. Brexiteers fear that this could keep Britain tied to the European Union indefinitely, while the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which props up Mrs. May’s government, is petrified about its part of the country being separated economically from the rest of the United Kingdom.

In a letter published on Monday, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, emphasized that they did not want the backstop to come into force and hoped it could be averted by agreement on a trade deal that removes the need for border checks.

If it did become operable, the European Union would use “its best endeavors” to negotiate an agreement to replace it, “so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.”

That did little to placate Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the D.U.P., who wrote on Twitter that “rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns.”

Mrs. May seems to have calculated that, for the time being, her best hope is to cajole some hard-line Conservative Party Brexiteers into supporting her, even if they hate her plan, for fear of something worse. Her hand has been strengthened by machinations in Parliament in recent days, as lawmakers have tried to wrest control of the Brexit process, to inconclusive results, from a government that has no clear majority.

That wrangling has raised the possibility of a much “softer” Brexit, with closer ties to the European Union than Mrs. May wants, or a second referendum that might stop Brexit completely.

Mrs. May has also been trying to persuade lawmakers to side with her for fear of the disorderly Brexit that might arise on March 29 if, by then, there is not agreement. Prospects of that outcome have lessened lately because of the assertiveness of Parliament where a clear majority of lawmakers is determined to avoid a “no-deal” Brexit.

There was some bad news on Monday for Mrs. May with the resignation from her government of Gareth Johnson, an assistant whip, so that he would be free to vote against her Brexit plan.

But there was some movement in the other direction, too. One opposition Labour lawmaker, Kevin Barron, who represents a constituency that voted heavily for Leave, told The Times of London that his reservations over the plan were “far outweighed” by the risk of no deal, and that any attempt to reverse Brexit would be a “betrayal.”

A small group of Conservative Brexit supporters, including Andrew Murrison, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Caroline Johnson and Edward Leigh, are also now expected to support Mrs. May. They are hardly the most enthusiastic cheerleaders, however.

Mr. Clifton-Brown told the BBC that he believed Mrs. May was headed for defeat but was “fearful that a coalition in the House of Commons will somehow find a way of either extending Article 50 or, worse still, preventing us leaving altogether.”

Asked about the merits of Mrs. May’s plan, he replied, “Well, basically I still think it’s a thoroughly bad deal.”

Follow Stephen Castle on Twitter: @_StephenCastle.

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: May Scrambles to Save Her Accord to Exit E.U. From Crushing Defeat. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper |

 

 

 

 

The Sum of All Brexit Fears


December 29, 2018

The Sum of All Brexit Fears

The Leavers lied: The costs of withdrawing from the European Union were always destined to outweigh the benefits. Alas, the responsible, imaginative, and inclusive political leadership needed to minimize the damage is nowhere in sight.

 

LONDON – Day after day, week after week, most British citizens think that the turmoil over their country’s proposed exit from the European Union cannot get any worse. But, without fail, it does. Turmoil turns into humiliating chaos; a political crisis threatens to become a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, the date of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU gets closer. It is fewer than 100 days until the UK leaves, and at the moment there is no deal in sight that is acceptable to both Parliament in Westminster and the European Commission and European Council in Brussels.

The problem began with the 2016 referendum vote to leave. Unfortunately, despite plotting and planning for this outcome for years, Leavers had no idea what quitting the EU would actually entail. Their campaign was rife with delusions and dishonesty. Leaving, they said, would mean a financial bonanza, which the UK would inject into its National Health Service. Negotiating a trade deal with the EU after departure would be easy. Other countries around the world would queue up to make deals with Britain. All lies.

The Brexit talks themselves, when they finally began, were hampered by the incompetence of the ministers put in charge. The UK’s negotiators were long on ideological certainty and short on workable solutions.

Moreover, the red lines that Prime Minister Theresa May laid down at the very beginning made their work more difficult. We must not only leave the EU, she argued, but also the single market and the customs union. We could not accept any jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice. We must be able to end the freedom of European citizens to come to the UK to staff our hospitals, pick our crops, fill gaps in our professional services, and increase our prosperity.

One of the central problems to emerge from this mish-mash of nonsense was how to avoid re-establishing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the UK stayed within May’s red lines. Such a border would (as the head of Northern Ireland police noted) jeopardize the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of violence.

Recent negotiations have stalled on this point, because a successful outcome must square a circle. Britain has already accepted that Northern Ireland will have to stay in the customs union until the UK has concluded a long-term trade deal with the EU. Until then, there will have to be an insurance policy – a “backstop” – against possible failure. But hard-liners within May’s Conservative Party, and Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland, on whom May depends for her parliamentary majority, will accept only a backstop with a time limit, which is no real “stop” at all.

At the root of May’s difficulties is a simple truth that she and others are unwilling to accept. It is well-nigh impossible to negotiate an exit deal that is both in the national interest and acceptable to the right-wing English nationalists in her party. This became crystal clear during a grim week for the government earlier this month.

After May and her advisers concluded that the exit deal she had negotiated with the EU would be defeated in Parliament by a large majority, they suspended the debate before voting took place. May then announced that she was going to talk to other EU presidents and prime ministers to get the sort of reassurances that might satisfy her right-wing critics.

Those critics have operated increasingly like a party within a party. Halfway through May’s frantic diplomatic safari, they announced that they had gathered enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party. She won the vote with about two-thirds support, but with her authority badly dented.

Capping an awful week, European ministers made clear that they were not prepared to reopen the agreement with Britain to renegotiation. They could offer “best endeavours” and “good will,” but no more.

So what happens next? May’s supporters think she is determined; others reckon she is simply obstinate and blind to reason. She has continued to put off any debate on her own proposals. Critics say she is trying to push any vote as close to the exit date as possible, in order to pressure MPs to support her plan. “Back my plan or face the disaster of no deal,” she seems to be saying. “Support me or we’ll jump off the cliff.”

But pressure is building for Parliament to take control of the process and work through a more acceptable range of options. Is there a majority in favor of May’s deal? Is Parliament totally opposed to crashing out of Europe with no deal? Should we seek a Norway-style relationship with Europe and aim to stay in both the single market and the customs union, at the cost of continuing to accept free movement of workers? Should we try to postpone the date of our EU departure until we have sorted out what exactly we want? Should there be another referendum, passing the final decision back to the people?

A fog of political uncertainty hangs over Britain after Christmas. Only four things seem clear. First, the Conservative Party will have growing difficulty accommodating its fanatical English nationalist wing. Second, to save the UK from disaster, Parliament will have to get a grip on the process. Third, life outside the EU will, in any case, leave Britain poorer and less influential in the world. And, lastly, whatever the outcome, Brexit will be a divisive issue for years to come.

The Brexiteers lied. The costs of leaving the EU were always destined to outweigh the benefits. Alas, the responsible, imaginative, and inclusive political leadership needed to minimize the damage is nowhere in sight.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

May’s BreXit Christmas


December 25, 2018

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May’s BreXit Christmas

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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/exit-from-brexit-referendum-by-jacek-rostowski-2018-12

After invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon prematurely, British Prime Minister Theresa May has spent the past 21 months dancing around the impossibility of a quick withdrawal from the European Union. But with the House of Commons set to reject the exit deal she negotiated with EU leaders, the music is about to stop.

 

LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to withdraw her country from the European Union in an orderly fashion is collapsing. Though she has survived a no-confidence vote, in January the House of Commons will almost certainly reject the exit deal she negotiated with EU leaders. In order to avoid a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit, her government will have to ask the EU for an extension on the departure date, or withdraw its “intention to leave” notification, at least temporarily.

Either way, the next step would be to hold a second referendum with the option of a so-called exit from Brexit, which would reverse the 2016 decision to leave. Voters could still decide to back May’s deal, opt for a “Norway-style” arrangement, or crash out of the EU with no deal. But recent polling suggests that the choice of remaining in the EU would win the day.

How did a country with 400 years of constitutional governance and a culture of political compromise end up here?

Most commentators point to the seemingly insoluble problem of the . Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which put an end to decades of violent hostility between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, Britain agreed to permit the free movement of persons, goods, and some services across the border with the Republic of Ireland. A binding international treaty with no provision for exit, the Good Friday Agreement was signed under the assumption that both Britain and Ireland would remain in the EU indefinitely.

May’s deal with the EU includes a “backstop” that would prevent the reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the absence of a formal post-Brexit trade deal. The problem is that well over 100 members of May’s own party have rejected the backstop outright and will vote against her deal for that reason alone, making it dead on arrival.

But the Irish backstop is, in fact, a side issue. Even if there were no Irish problem, an orderly Brexit would have been impossible within the two years allotted to the UK under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. As I pointed out in October, British manufacturing supply chains are so deeply integrated with those of continental Europe that they could not survive the sudden establishment of customs and other checks on the British border. Britain’s automotive, aerospace, and precision-instruments industries would be decimated.

To be sure, many non-European countries export large volumes of industrial goods to the EU. But, unlike British goods, these generally cross the EU border only once. The same would hold true for Britain’s goods only aftert he country disentangles itself from the web of European supply chains. That task alone would be comparable to the restructuring of post-communist countries following the collapse of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon, the Soviet-era trade bloc). Completing it could well take five or more years.

After the 2016 referendum, May’s government should have had an adult discussion about the shape Brexit would take, rather than simply declaring, “Brexit means Brexit.” Scenarios in which the UK could remain in the single market, the customs union, or both were on offer from the EU. The government also should have done far more to apprise the business community of its plans.

Moreover, if the intention was always to leave both the single market and the customs union, retaining only a free-trade agreement with Europe, the government should have made clear that it would need an “implementation period” of at least five years to do this in an orderly manner. During this time it would be bound by European laws – including its obligation to pay around £13 billion ($16.4 billion) per year to the EU budget. May should not have invoked Article 50 until all of these decisions had been made, communicated to the relevant parties, and agreed upon at least in principle.

One reason May’s government ended up taking the exact opposite approach is that neither senior politicians nor bureaucrats understood the degree to which the British economy is intertwined with Europe. The fact that a quick Brexit into a free-trade agreement is logistically impossible seems to have been totally lost on them.

But the bigger problem was that a balanced consideration of possible options would have laid bare the lie upon which the “Leave” campaign was based. The idea that Britain could secure a “bespoke deal” and maintain “frictionless” access to the single market while pursuing its own trade accords elsewhere was always a fantasy.

Fearing the political consequences of acknowledging this basic truth, May adopted a completely unrealistic negotiating strategy, hoping that “some kind of Brexit” would happen before the British public realized it had been duped. Today, just three months before the departure date, this deeply deceitful démarche has disintegrated before May’s eyes – as well it should.

Jacek Rostowski was Poland’s Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister from 2007 to 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

A Second Chance for Britain


December 12, 2018

A Second Chance for Britain

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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/second-brexit-referendum-for-britain-by-ian-buruma-2018-12

anti-brexit second chance

In 1950, the British reacted with a mixture of horror and disdain to the proposed European Coal and Steel Community, suspecting a French plot to lure a pragmatic people into some utopian foreign project. The basic arguments against “Europe” have not changed at all since then, unlike the consequences of acting on them.

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May Mrs.Theresa May remain Prime Minister Of The United Kingdom

In 1950, the British reacted with a mixture of horror and disdain to the proposed European Coal and Steel Community, suspecting a French plot to lure a pragmatic people into some utopian foreign project. The basic arguments against “Europe” have not changed at all since then, unlike the consequences of acting on them.

NEW YORK – On May 9, 1950, when European countries were just beginning to emerge from the ruins of war, the French statesman Robert Schuman announced his plan to create the European Coal and Steel Community. By pooling these vital war materials under a common European authority, violent conflict between France and Germany would become unthinkable. The Germans were delighted. The Benelux countries and Italy would take part as well. A first step toward a European union had been taken. Shortly after Schuman’s announcement, the British were invited to join in the discussions.

They reacted with a mixture of horror and disdain, suspecting a French plot to lure a pragmatic people into some utopian foreign project. The Labour Party, then in power in Britain, couldn’t imagine sharing sovereignty over the United Kingdom’s vital industries. And Conservatives failed to see how a global power could possibly be part of such a narrow European club. It was all very well for the Continentals to band together. But Britannia would continue to rule the waves, together with the other English-speaking peoples in the Commonwealth and the United States.

It is easy, in hindsight, to mock the British for missing the European boat with such blithe arrogance. But it is at least understandable. After all, the British with their proud democracy had stood alone against Hitler’s Germany and helped to free the European countries that had surrendered to the Nazis. One cannot really blame them for feeling a trifle superior.

What is depressing, however, about the Brexit disaster that is making such a mess of British politics now is that the basic arguments against “Europe” have not changed at all since 1950. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party ideologues view the European Union as a capitalist plot to undermine the purity of their socialist ideals. And Brexiteers on the right still dream of Britain as a great power, whose global reach should not be hampered by membership of European institutions. Another strand of nationalism, which is more English than British, is the romantic attachment to a “special relationship” with the US.

Alas for the British, the world has changed a great deal since 1950. The British Empire is over, the Commonwealth is little more than a sentimental relic of the past, and the relationship with the US may be very special to the English, but it is much less so to the Americans.

But something else, perhaps even more important, has changed as well. When the British government turned down the chance in 1950 to help shape Europe’s future, some Conservatives criticized Labour for being a bit too hasty. As the opposition, the Tories had to say that. But their hearts were not really in it, for, as the New York Times reported at the time, the government’s position “reflects a good deal of British feeling toward Europe, regardless of party lines.”

Britain – if not every part of England – is now a much more European country. London in 1950 was still a completely British city, where “aliens” were a distinct minority. In the last decades of the twentieth century, it became the unofficial capital of Europe. More than three million Londoners are foreign born, with hundreds of thousands of young Europeans working in banking, law, fashion, catering, the arts, and many other industries. London has a larger French population than many French cities.

No wonder, then, that the majority of Londoners voted to remain in the EU. And so did most young people in Britain who bothered to vote in the referendum. The Britain of 1950 would be unrecognizable to them.

So who are the 51% who voted to leave the EU? And why? Protecting socialism has limited appeal, as do ideals of pure national sovereignty or fantasies of Britain striking out alone as a global power. Fear of immigration appears to be the main reason why people voted to leave. In some cases, this stemmed from genuine worries that Eastern European builders, say, were making it harder for British citizens to do the same jobs for a decent wage. But very often, the people who are most afraid of being “swamped” by foreigners live in areas where immigrants are very few.

At the same time, most British citizens take it for granted that they are nursed and treated in hospitals by immigrants, served in supermarkets by immigrants, and aided in banks, post offices, social service centers, airports, and public transport by immigrants. Without immigrants, the British economy and services would collapse.

Some pro-Brexit politicians have stoked immigration fears more brazenly than others. The most notorious image used in the Brexit campaign was a poster showing a stream of young men, looking vaguely Middle-Eastern, with the text: “We must break free of the EU and take back control.” In fact, the young men in the picture were nowhere near the UK’s borders. The photograph was taken in Croatia.

The more respectable Brexiteers talk more about sovereignty than immigration. Their anxiety about losing control may be genuine. Figures like Boris Johnson, with his Churchillian pretensions, or Jacob Rees-Mogg, who resembles a minor character in a P.G. Wodehouse novel, are anachronisms. In earlier times, they might have run an empire. Now they are mere politicians in a middle-ranking state.

Brexit for the likes of Johnson or Rees-Mogg is more like a deluded grab for power, undertaken in the name of the common people, supposedly in revolt against the elites of which these politicians are themselves conspicuous members. Their nostalgia for grander forms of rule has already done great damage to the country they claim to love. This is all the more reason, now that the potential catastrophe of Brexit is so plain to see, why those common people should have a second chance to vote for a way to avoid it.

 

 

Brexit–David Cameron led us to this calamity.


October 23, 2018

 

“David Cameron is a former PM. He not only has the right to offer his solution but a duty. If he is to earn the right to a hearing, however, he must first find not only self-knowledge and courage, but an un-English seriousness of purpose he has evaded all his life.”–Nick Cohen

John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have warned of the dangers of Brexit. But where is the former Prime Minister who called the referendum that will blight Britain for as far ahead as anyone can see? Whatever happened to that likely lad? David Cameron doesn’t want to talk about it, one of his friends tells me. “He doesn’t defend the referendum, but won’t say he made a mistake either. Europe is like a family scandal. We know what’s happened but we don’t say a word: it’s his no-go zone.”

At a personal level, the consequences swirl around him. I may be exhausting your capacity for compassion but the smallest of the casualties of Brexit has been the good fellowship of the Chipping Norton set. Naturally, the Cotswolds’ wealthy Leavers are grateful. But Cameron must resent them. He must know that he has been the useful idiot who succumbed to the demands of Rupert Murdoch’s Rebekah Brooks, a member of the local nouveau gentry by virtue of her converted barn, in the crashingly stupid belief that no harm would come from his surrender.

Invitations to “kitchen suppers” from Remainers, however, can only include Samantha Cameron’s name – if, they are extended at all. Tania Rotherwick invited the Camerons to her pool at the magnificent Cornbury Park estate before she split from her husband and Cameron split Britain from Europe. She is now particularly contemptuous, I hear.

Cameron’s memoirs were meant to be published this month but have been delayed until next year. The early signs are ominous. A book has to be coherent if it is to find a readership: its opening must prefigure its conclusion. As described in the publishing press, Cameron’s effort will have no consistency. He will tell the story of the formation of the coalition, his contributions to economic, welfare and foreign policy, his surprise victory in the 2015 election and then – as if from nowhere – the conventional memoir will end with the author carelessly deciding he will settle the European question, without planning a campaign or preparing an argument and, instead, launching a crisis that will last for decades. Nothing will make sense. Nothing will hang together. It’s as if a romcom were to conclude with serial killers murdering the cooing lovers or Hilary Mantel were to have aliens invade Tudor England on the last page of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

The book Cameron cannot write would accept that his political battles and achievements were as nothing when set against his decision to appeal to the worst of the Tory party. It would begin with Cameron honouring the decision that won him the Conservative leadership in 2005. He would confess that he should have known better than to pull the Conservatives out of the centre-right group in the European parliament and align them with Law and Justice, the know-nothing Polish nationalists who are reducing their country to an ill-governed autocracy. The manoeuvre was pure Cameron: tactics above strategy; appeasement instead of confrontation.

The pattern continued throughout his premiership. He thought he could buy off the right by refusing to explain the benefits of EU membership to the voters. At one point in 2014 he threatened to leave the EU. He then turned around in 2016 and asked the public to believe that leaving would be a disaster and was surprised when 17.4 million men and women he had never treated as adults worthy of inclusion in a serious conversation ignored him.

If he were being honest, Cameron would admit too that Brexit ought to bring an end to a British or, to be specific, English, style that is by no means confined to the upper class, but was everywhere present among the public-school boys who ruled us.

‘One Etonian led the Remain campaign and another led the Leave campaign, and the English couldn’t see why that was wrong.’
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‘One Etonian led the Remain campaign and another led the Leave campaign, and the English couldn’t see why that was wrong.’ Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian

I mean the ironic style that gives us our famously impenetrable sense of humour (which we will need now the rest of the world is laughing at us). The perfidious style that allows us to hide behind masks and has made England superb at producing brilliant actors for the West End but hopeless at producing practical politicians for Westminster. The teasing style of speaking in codes that benighted foreigners can never understand, however well they speak English. The cliquey style that treats England as a club, not a country, and allowed Jeremy Corbyn to say that Jews cannot “understand English irony”, however long their ancestors have lived here.

 

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The deferential style that allowed one Etonian to lead the Remain campaign and another to lead the Leave campaign and for the English to not even see why that was wrong. The life’s-a-game-you-shouldn’t-take-too-seriously style that inspired Cameron to say he holds “no grudges” against Boris Johnson now the match is over and the covers back on the pitch.

The gentleman amateur style that convinced Cameron he could treat a momentous decision like an Oxford essay crisis and charm the electorate into agreeing with him in a couple of weeks, as if voters were a sherry-soaked don who could be won round with a few clever asides. The effortlessly superior style that never makes the effort to ask what the hell the English have to feel superior about. The gutless, dilettantish and fatally flippant style that has dominated England for so long and failed it so completely. The time for its funeral has long passed.

A politician who bumped into Cameron said he thinks the referendum result must be respected, but that Britain should protect living standards by going for the softest Brexit imaginable and staying in the single market. This is a compromise well to the “left” of Theresa May and Corbyn’s plans and is worth discussing. Whatever his critics say, David Cameron is a former PM. He not only has the right to offer his solution but a duty. If he is to earn the right to a hearing, however, he must first find not only self-knowledge and courage, but an un-English seriousness of purpose he has evaded all his life.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist