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As Brexit gets closer, it seems further away

Pro-EU campaigners at the March for Europe rally against Brexit in Parliament Square, central London. Photo: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment - Credit: Empics Entertainment

MITCH BENN asks whether, despite being calendrically ‘closer’ to Brexit, it now looks further away than ever.

So, here we are again then; at the start of a new year.

On the one hand, it seems like only a few weeks since we were assessing the global garbage fire which had been 2016 and wondering what on earth could be about to happen next; on the other hand so much did happen next that it’s hard to believe that 2017 has only lasted the regulation 365 days.

So many things that we took for granted have gone; so many things which had once been unimaginable have taken their place.

Stick a pin in that thought while I tell you a story.

There were so many new facts to absorb in the aftermath of June’s surprise General Election (which of course ended up being a ‘surprise General Election’ in every possible sense of the phrase) that I don’t think I ever told you how I passed the night of June 8, Election Day.

I spent the evening in the cellar bar of The Phoenix pub in Cavendish Square in central London; I think of this venue principally as the home of The Distraction Club, the music and comedy evening that my bandmates and I organise on the first Tuesday of every month (and I can’t believe I’ve been doing this column for 15 months and only just managed to squeeze in a plug for it) but on this occasion I was taking part in a night of political stand-up convened by my comedy pal Tiernan Douieb, intended to soften the blow of what was, you’ll recall, expected to be a crushingly bad night for progressive and/or left-leaning people.

I was probably the least left-leaning comic on the bill; as I’ve tried to explain before, while I’m an intensely political person (in comedy and in life) I’m not a party political person. I dole out scorn and criticism (and praise) in as even-handed a manner as possible, to all points across the political spectrum, partly out of a sense of professional objectivity and partly because all sides richly deserve scorn and criticism (and praise) sooner or later. As you can imagine, the Corbyn era has placed a lot of strain on many of my longest-standing comedy friendships.

I was doing a short set closing the first half of the show. Before me there had been a succession of angry and despairing sets from some of my more avowedly lefty comedy colleagues, and a general sense of ruefully ironic gloom was descending over the place. I don’t even remember what I did in my set; a couple of songs, I imagine, but I do remember what I closed with.

‘Remember,’ I said, ‘if the last 12 months has told us anything it’s that we live in the age of the ‘rogue vote’. Maybe, just maybe… there’s time for one more.’

Immediately following my set there came the interval, during which the polling stations closed and the exit poll was released.

Talk about a game of two halves.

The second half of the show passed in an atmosphere of mounting excitement, astonishment and incredulity, and ultimately bewildered elation with the realisation that, as far as British electoral politics were concerned, all bets were, in fact, off.

As indeed they still are. While the shock election result didn’t immediately derail the Brexit process, it did cause a huge – and thus far uncorrected – wobble in what had theretofore been the country’s straight course toward exiting the EU.

It exposed the government for the self-serving incompetent rabble they are, and precisely nothing they’ve done in the months since has done anything to challenge this perception (quite the reverse, if anything).

Meanwhile, across the pond, the Great Orange Hope currently sits at somewhere between 30 and 35% approval, with his every unguarded utterance (ie. all of them) seeming to add to the welter of evidence, that should, an unprecedented act of constitutional vandalism notwithstanding, see himself hauled over some pretty hot legal coals in due course. 2017 has already been a great year for hubris – Theresa May calling that election for reasons of pure partisan advantage and personal self-aggrandisement only to have it blow up in her face almost defines the term.

If Donald Trump’s ceaseless servicing of his own ego – nothing short of being president would assuage his lust for status and adoration and even now he’s got the job he seems annoyed to discover it’s not king after all – results in his humiliation and downfall, that will re-define the term.

If only he’d been content to carry on playing at being a billionaire in his gold plated penthouse, and presenting his stupid game show, he could have blustered away indefinitely, but now he has a real job, and moreover, a job subject to the kind of oversight and scrutiny he’s never had to even contemplate before. The man owns a lot of cupboards, with room for many, many skeletons.

I did say ‘an unprecedented act of constitutional vandalism notwithstanding’; Trump may yet find a way to fire Special Counsel Mueller or otherwise derail his investigation, and as many have noted, when President Nixon did likewise back in 1973 (the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ which was to lead to his undoing) he didn’t have an entirely complicit Republican congress to rely on, nor indeed the backing of a far-right populist ‘news’ complex denouncing all who oppose him as traitors.

The only thing we can be sure of as we head into 2018 is that we can’t be sure of anything. The only thing we can expect is the unexpected. But that should be a cause for hope rather than despair. For all that we are calendrically ‘closer’ to Brexit than 12 months ago, it now looks further away than at any stage since the referendum. The folly is laid bare, the lies are exposed, and as every new poll makes clear, ‘the will of the people’ is now on our side.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

One way or another.

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