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Let’s pause before we ‘Thelma and Louise’ it

Mitch Benn says the government must put egos to one side and come to their senses. Picture: Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Why we don’t have to drive over the cliff like Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.

Ok, time out. Cool your boots. Easy, tiger. Whoa there. Hang fire. Take five. Hold your horses. Phrase it any damn way you want to but please, for the love of whatever it is you pray to, just STOP. ENOUGH.

I’m writing this with one nervous eye on my Twitter feed as, at time of scribing, we’ve had five government resignations (the big two that everyone’s talking about plus two junior ministers and a PPS), the installation of Jeremy Hunt as foreign secretary (so we should have sold half of our embassies to Richard Branson by the end of the summer) and the job of Brexit secretary going to a glowering, square-headed individual called Dominic Raab, who not only has the name and face of a 1980s Doctor Who villain but also (a cursory glance at his voting record reveals) the agenda of one. I’ve put off writing and submitting this column until the absolute last possible minute, for fear that the news will break of Theresa May entering a nunnery and Jeremy Clarkson winning the Tory leadership the second after I hit ‘send’.

I was about to begin this paragraph with ‘But seriously, folks’ or words to that effect, but I find I can’t bring myself to do it. The situation our country now finds itself in defies the established boundaries of what’s serious and what’s funny, of where reality ends and satire begins.

It’s a desperately awful cliché employed by observers and pundits on all sides of the political polygon to shake one’s head sadly and sigh, ‘You couldn’t make it up’, but in all brutal honesty, you actually couldn’t make this up. Well you could, but you couldn’t sell it to anyone. If you tried to incorporate the currently unfolding sequence of events into the script of an Iannucci-esque political comedy, you’d be told by the producers to go away, start again and behave yourself this time.

Meanwhile, of course, this most farcical of Whitehall farces is unfolding in the build-up to the arrival on our shores of the US president who – facing a welter of allegations that he owes his position to the interference of the hostile foreign power to which, by complete coincidence, he shows inexplicably unswerving loyalty – has just nominated to the vacant Supreme Court seat a judge who, by another astonishing coincidence, has gone on the record as saying he doesn’t believe it’s legally possible to indict a sitting president. So that was lucky.

Leaving that aside for a moment and returning to our domestic woes… Do we think it’s possible that we could all agree on something? Can we now, whatever our party loyalties and however we voted in June 2016, all concur that Brexit isn’t working? Given this week’s ministerial bloodbath, can we put aside our differences on all other matters, just for a moment and come together on that at least? That even if Brexit were possible and achievable without causing social and economic turmoil on an Old Testament scale, that right now, as it stands, it’s headed for utter disaster? Though we may differ – vehemently – on whose fault this is, and on whether it could ever have been any other way, can we not all just admit that this is indeed the case? That we’re bound for ruin and it’s time – even if only temporarily – to stop? I genuinely can’t conceive of the kind of level of cognitive filtering and wilful ignorance one would need to employ not to see the truth of this. Whether we believe Brexit is an inherently foolish escapade or an entirely noble venture that’s just being appallingly mishandled, surely everyone – from your Julia Hartley-Brewers to your Andrew Lilicos to your Owen Joneses – can now see that IT’S. JUST. NOT. WORKING. And we need to pause and think things over.

Would that really be so hard? I know I and my fellow metropolitan bubble-dwelling elitists may be hell bent on stopping and/or reversing this rattling fustercluck altogether, but that’s not what I’m proposing now. I’m just suggesting we, you know, pump the brakes a little, just so we can check the map and see where we’re going. And if it turns out we really are headed over a cliff, maybe we could, like, have a brief discussion on the topic of the relative benefits and hazards of driving over cliffs. That’s all.

That wouldn’t be so bad, would it? That wouldn’t be ‘betraying the will of the people’, not really… Who knows, maybe the people might decide, after that brief discussion, that even though they really do want to get to the bottom of that cliff, that maybe the thing to do would be to, like, get out of the car and climb carefully down the cliff over the next, say, 20 years or so, rather than just floor the accelerator and Thelma And Louise it…?

The Brexiteers’ problem is, at the end of the day, an insoluble one: they promised the impossible, and having won, pledged to deliver the impossible, apparently forgetting that the thing about the impossible is that it’s impossible. We’ve dedicated our entire political establishment to doing that which cannot be done, and rather than admit this, we’ve allowed this contradiction to render the whole process quite literally insane.

Is ‘sanity’ really that pernicious a political concept in 2018? Is it really so toxic as to be beyond consideration? Mrs May, Mr Corbyn, Mr Raab, Mr McDonnell, Mr Hunt – whoever is still in the cabinet by the time this edition comes out: Stop.

If you care about this country, if you care for ‘the people’ in whose name you claim to act, if you care a damn for anything except your own petty egos, just stop.


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