The weather forecast for Britain is hot and humid for the entire week.
That in itself is hardly worthy of note, even in a country as wet, chilly and climatically unreliable as Britain normally is. What is remarkable, though, is that the weather has been unceasingly hot and humid for the past seven weeks and perhaps longer – so long in fact that I have lost count. Seen from the kitchen window, my garden – normally a verdant picture-postcard vista of green – is starting to resemble the kind of view remembered from some Mediterranean holiday retreat. My Sicilian gardener says he feels right at home – although if there is much more of this he might as well go home. He may have to for reasons unrelated to the weather.
I mention the weather – and him – because it puts me in mind of the Brexit debate, which is likewise hot, oppressive and relentless.
What a mess this country is in. I have said it before, I know, but the mess gets messier by the day.
Theresa May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ white paper outlining the terms Britain wishes to negotiate with the European Union has, like most compromises, ended up as a rancid stew that no one will swallow. Brexiteers think it means ‘remain’ in all but name. Remainers think it gives Britain the worst of both worlds, so much so that Britain might just as well stay in. The Conservative Party is hopelessly in thrall to its Brexit rebels, who may be a minority but a sufficiently large one to bring down the government. The opposition Labour Party’s position, largely unfathomable as usual, is opportunistically silent, revelling in the government’s discomfiture and hoping that it will lead to an election which it thinks it can win, even though its leader Jeremy Corbyn is considered a joke as prime ministerial material even by his parliamentary party.
According to an influential polling agency, the Chequers compact is also opposed by the electorate. Only 12 per cent approve of it. Most seem to have arrived at that position on the grounds that anything this government might choose as a policy must be almost by definition a bad idea. But then, in an apparent contradiction, the poll finds that if there were a second referendum tomorrow, a majority would vote to stay in the EU.
I attach little significance to that finding, by the way, which I think probably reflects less political conviction than stupefaction, the sheer boredom, of an electorate that wishes Brexit, one way or another, would simply ‘go away’, happy for Britain to stay in the EU, just as happy to leave – just to end an eternal debate that few comprehend, or can’t be bothered to.
A certain American political figure – whose name I will not mention in keeping with my recent pledge not to mention him for the rest of the summer – flew in a week or so back to declare that the country is in turmoil, that Prime Minister May was in a pickle because she had failed to take his advice, adding insult to injury by averring that Boris Johnson – who resigned as foreign secretary two weeks ago – would make a much better fist of her job. It is hard to argue with any of those points, and the latest poll agrees with him.
If Chequers is truly dead, what happens next? The voters have no idea, but then nor apparently does the government. Nor, for that matter, do the most erudite and perceptive political commentators, even those who can usually be relied upon to have an opinion on anything and a solution for most. The EU will probably add fuel to the confusion by rejecting the British proposals anyway. Europe cannot let Britain ‘get away with’ its ingratitude without paying a heavy price.
One Conservative Member of Parliament in evident desperation called for a new referendum that would include a three-way choice on the ballot paper: accept the Chequers deal, as amended by whatever the British government ends up wringing from Europe in the way of concessions; approve a ‘hard’ Brexit, meaning accept that there is no deal to be done; or simply stay in the EU. How that that might go, leaving aside the impractical aspects of such a plan, and ignoring the prospect of mass voter confusion, is anyone’s guess.
My forecasting powers have waned even from the low point at which they started, but my best guess is as follows: the negotiators will cobble together some kind of Brexit deal that satisfies neither side, but in particular the British; the Tory right wing will then force Theresa May from office; a fresh new leader – possibly Johnson, but who knows? – will then call a general election, confident of winning it with a ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ campaign.
Things can’t go on as they are. Nothing in politics is any more certain than the weather. In both senses, something has to break.
As for timing, my pick would be September, for the weather because the natural order is that all summers must end, and for politics when parliament reconvenes after the holiday recess.
Meanwhile, I’m off to water a wilting garden, before the impending hose-pipe ban imposes a moral imperative.