The Brexit debate, as Martin Kettle has perceptively noted in a Guardian column, has turned a corner. There is a realisation that the idea of Britain leaving the European Union is not a good one, and that there is still time for the process to be reversed - especially given how little progress Theresa May and her merry band of malcontents have made in actually deciding what they want at the end of the process.
That realisation has not gone down well with hardline Europhobes: several, including former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson, Labour-in-name-only Kate Hoey, and Dan, Dan The Oratory Man, have taken the reckless step of telling anyone that will listen that the Good Friday Agreement has “outlived its usefulness”. The GFA effectively stands in the way of any kind of hard Brexit. So it has to be attacked.
Desperation is also the name of the game for those opposed to any transition period longer than the 21 months already on the table. Anything longer is considered an act of treacherous backsliding, and on noticing that this period could become open-ended, the Member for Times Long Past, Jacob Rees Mogg, went off the end of the pier in no style at all to demand a stiffening of the sinews, a commitment to leaving Full Stop.
Commenting on a leaked document suggesting an open-ended transition, Rees Mogg loftily sniffed “Transition must be time limited, the European Union itself has suggested twenty-one months to the end of the multiannual financial framework. It is, therefore, peculiar that the leak reveals Whitehall proposing the exact opposite. It reads: ‘the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes’: this translates from bureaucratese into English: ‘we must remain’”.
He then talks of “the perversion of democracy that BRINO [Brexit in name only] would be”, which is an interesting stance to take, given the recent activities of the European Reform Group, that party within a party, a band of hardline Brexiteers for whom nothing short of a hard Brexit will satisfy their thirst for an ideologically pure Government.
Although Rees Mogg and his pals make up a group 62 strong, that is only one-fifth of the Tories’ current Parliamentary strength. But that has not stopped the menacing tone of their letter to the PM: “we are writing to reassure you of our continued, strong backing for an internationally-engaged, free-trading, global Britain which you laid out at Lancaster House. We also want to share some suggestions about how it could be achieved”.
There then follow six bullet points effectively telling the Prime Minister what to do - with an implicit “or else”. She has no majority, and they are more than ready to bring her down. Given also that their strength is less than one tenth of the total number of MPs in the Commons, that rather puts Rees Mogg’s “perversion of democracy” in perspective.
Yet there is Jacob Rees Mogg, looking at the 550-plus MPs who do not share his world view, and complaining about a “perversion of democracy”.
Someone seems to be supping some very strong stuff, and the someone seems to be him.