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James Millar: Hide from reality if you must – but it will only hurt all the more when it bites

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Delusion rules in politics these days.

On all sides.

James Millar.

I recently had coffee with a Tory. If you want an indication of how far the party has drifted in its relationship with big business it’s worth nothing she insisted we meet in an independent coffee shop rather than a branch of the high street chains. But then she’s not from the Rory Stewart Pret-loving wing of the party.

She’s not an MP yet, but a number of Tory associations are sizing her up as a potential candidate at the forthcoming election.

We discussed the mess Brexit will leave for the next government to clean up. I say discussed, she just disagreed.

There is no doubt that a no deal Brexit will be disruptive. There will be some food shortages. Now, you may feel we can do without strawberries and tomatoes in November, they’re out of season, that’s a reasonable position to take. But to deny that food supplies will be interrupted in the event of a no deal Brexit is to deny that the sun will come up tomorrow morning or to claim that lorries can simply fly over the Channel.

Similarly there’s a reason the NHS is stockpiling some medicines, there’s a good chance supplies will be affected. Will people die? Hopefully not. Will sick people be inconvenienced when they least need that sort of stress? Almost certainly. A diabetic friend is confident he’ll survive a no deal Brexit but doesn’t fancy the likelihood that instead of the hi-tech widget that currently unobtrusively regulates his insulin levels he’ll have to break out the uncomfortable and old-fashioned vials and needles he used to have to use.

The wannabe Tory MP’s response to these scenarios?

Not going to happen.

She dismissed them as fake news.

This is a highly educated woman with a good chance of having a hand in making the laws of the land after the next election. The problem is not that she disagrees and can put a counter-scenario in which things turn out better. Or that she can reel off government action to head off the worst effects on no deal. The truth is she can’t. And so she simply won’t engage with reality.

And she’s not alone. In fact she’s typical of the New Model Tories taking over a once pragmatic party.

It is hardly surprising given the example set by the leadership. Boris Johnson’s public utterings on Brexit have been nothing short of nutty. A funny that fires up his supporters cannot undo the realities of the Irish border.

At an event I attended last weekend one pundit came up with a particularly colourful analogy for what’s going on. He compared the PM and his mastermind Dominic Cummings to the baddie in Indiana Jones who shows off his swordsmanship skills, whipping his blade this way and that. Then Indiana Jones shoots him.

The flashing blade of Johnson’s rhetoric and the mental gymnastics of his grassroots are no match for the irresistible force of facts.

But don’t be thinking that makes either the opposition in parliament or the Remain side in the country the Indiana Jones’s of this piece. There are no heroes of Brexit.

At the same weekend event – a particularly nerdy day out where some of the nation’s leading political podcasts, including the one I make for the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, record in front of a live audience – Remainers gathered in a side room to hear the wisdom of their leaders handed down.

Sporting badges that read ‘Bog off Boris’ or ‘Brexit Sucks’ they listened to a comically cosmopolitan panel made up of playwright Bonnie Greer and a man from The Guardian explain that Brexit was about the left-behind expressing their anger. The left-behind of Surrey? I don’t think so. Brexit was, and remains, complicated. But not to this congregation, desperate to be told it’s really quite simple and equally deluded as their opponents.

While a few dozen Remainers spent the hour debating whether Keir Starmer is the solution – without really pondering what the question might be – 300 others were in a bigger room listening to Rod Liddle in conversation with Brendan O’Neil. These two might charitably be described as professional controversialists. Both publish increasingly offensive rants designed to do nothing more than trigger liberals into a froth.

The point is that scores of people wanted to see O’Neill and Liddle peddle their childish worldview. Far fewer listened to Greer saying things slowly and in an American accent as if that would make them true. The Remainers remain deluded that they haven’t lost. But the numbers at the London event demonstrated just as truly as the numbers on referendum night in June 2016 that’s not so.

While one side can’t compute the complexities that have brought us to this point, the other side won’t tackle facts that must be faced and accommodated to implement their victory.

Neither position is sustainable.

Events have momentum, they will inexorably lead to a reckoning, and it’s unlikely to be pretty. Because that’s the thing with reality – it bites.


James Millar is a political commentator and author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post

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