Up the drive to Chequers they came, one by glorious one, the worst political project this country has ever known.
There was Steve Baker, who has been known to unbutton the top of his shirt, kiss his crucifix and declare that Brexit is for God.
There was David Davis, whose vivid and repeated ridiculousness can scarcely be condensed to a single instance. If you wish to know why the man is a joke, just google his name. The free trade deals with the German car industry, the impact assessments that never existed, the promised free trade area larger than planet earth. Nothing that is not ridiculous appears.
There was Michael Gove, former front man for an immigrant-baiting paper on “Paving the Way from Ankara to the UK”, who sold out his former best friend David Cameron because of his “principles” over Brexit, yet has somehow found it within him to stay in the cabinet, while all his Brexiteer friends have quit over theirs.
There was Jacob Rees-Mogg, the head of the European Research Group, whose research comes from an economist who wants to close down all British manufacturing. The ERG’s most recent research led to Rees-Mogg claiming that “no-deal Brexit” will be worth “£1.1trn to the UK economy”, a claim he had to disown an hour and a half later, while holding the research in his hand. His advice to the nation is to leave without a deal, meanwhile the advice to investors in the investment firm of which he is chairman is to move their investments from the UK to Dublin.
Rees-Mogg, by the way, partly owes his status as a media darling to the fact he is a vanishingly rare politician who, when asked a straight question, always give a straight answer. To the very best of my knowledge, the only time he has ever not done so was three weeks ago, when Channel 4 News asked him if he had personally had made £7m from Brexit, and he obfuscated as if it were suddenly an Olympic sport.
There was Iain Duncan Smith, a man who, during the referendum campaign, told lies so blatant, such as, for example, that Angela Merkel had veto power over Cameron’s request for restrictions on freedom of movement, that EU negotiators had to step in to set the record straight.
And there, finally, was Boris Johnson, ambulant lie, and the single most objectionable human in the nation’s history. A straightforward sociopath, who cannot be shaken of his conviction that he is destined for high office, despite his utter failure within it. There is not time to repeat all of the lies of the Brexit campaign, nor even a tenth of his stunning ineptitude at the Foreign Office, a department that still refers to his resignation as “Liberation Day.” This is a man who would struggle to answer the question, “How many children do you have and who are their mothers?” and who is still, still manoeuvring to replace Theresa May as prime minister.
These are the men whose heady mix of lies, delusion, stupidity, shamelessness, vanity and cowardice have broken their nation. And yet, three years down the line and with the Brexit Domesday Clock at two minutes to midnight, here they are all again, summoned by the prime minister for yet another chance to shape the future of a country they have humiliated in in a way it has never been humiliated before.
At the weekend, Baker claimed “the wrong Conservatives are at the levers of power.” Johnson, in The Telegraph column he continues to write for £5,000 a time, tells May she has “chickened out". It is tedious to have to repeat the attempts, in the high summer of 2016, of the “right” Conservatives to take hold of the levers of power, other than to say it was the most pathetically shambolic course of events quite possibly ever witnessed in this country. Johnson is the greatest political chicken of them all, the chicken's chicken, chickening out to Gove, who yesterday, chickened out himself, again.
As the Conservative Party, once revered across Europe and now rendered an international laughing stock by all the people mentioned above and absolutely no one else, continues to indulge itself, the European Commission has published detailed plans for “no deal Brexit”, of the kind talked up by Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Baker and the rest.
They are appalling, and they are, in the European Commission’s words ”increasingly likely.” These people should not be under any illusion whatsoever that nobody, absolutely nobody, voted for no-deal Brexit. The people who claim to be in favour of it now will, if its realities come to pass, very quickly not be so. Which leads us to an overwhelming question: if the Conservatives fail to deliver Brexit, they will be electorally annihilated. But they may yet find themselves annihilated if they deliver it too.
Political predictions in this rarefied moment are a mug’s game, but the destruction of the Conservative Party looks an increasing certainty. It will be no more or less than it deserves.