The worst of Brexit's damage is long since done – it is time for some political leadership

Tom Peck
The Prime Minister is about to start the inevitable panicked climbdown – and about time too: AFP/Getty

I have always found it helpful to view the Brexit negotiations through the prism of the hotel room drug deal scene at the end of Trainspotting, and never more so than now.

It is not merely because Begbie, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy so accurately mimic the intellectual deficiency, generalised psychopathy and jaw-dropping untrustworthiness of our current political leaders – though it does all those things very well.

It is simply the utterly hopeless mismatch between the two parties, and the panicked arrival of reality, which may very well finally have happened today.

If you want to imagine the scene at Theresa May’s newly formed “Brexit War Cabinet” which met on Monday morning, you only really need to re-watch those short few minutes. When a gang of chancers who think they’ve hit the big time suddenly realise, as the professionals sweep in, how hopelessly out of their depth they really are, and how utterly non-existent any leverage they imagined they might have had.

In the style of Begbie’s panicked climbdown –“twenty grand, nineteen grand, alright f*cking sixteen, then” – Theresa May now appears ready to start shouting ever bigger numbers at Brussels, arriving finally at the certain knowledge she has no alternative.

But the similarity is not total. At least, in the end, this small gang of drop-out smack addicts are capable of grasping reality, which is where they differ from certain sections of the Conservative party.

Even as Theresa May and the rest appear braced to do what they were always going to do and double the offer to Brussels, from £20bn to £40bn (and, in the end, no doubt more), Tory voices still seem determined to stampede toward the cliff edge.

Today, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, a Remainer and former party deputy chairman, warns that the public will “go bananas” if vast sums are handed to Brussels.

“We need money for our schools, our hospitals, our housing and many other things,” he says in The Sun. “If we start saying that we’re going to give £40-£50bn to the EU, I think the public will go bananas, absolutely spare.”

Is it too much to ask, even at this late stage, the worst of the damage already done, for a bit of political leadership? To explain the actual, real life consequences of leaving the EU without a deal, the damage it would do our schools, hospitals and housing, all of which are already substantially worse off than they would have been had the vote gone the other way, and even in a best case scenario, will continue to be so for many years to come.

Is it not time, for example, for Nigel Evans not to say that the UK is not going to be “the EU’s Father Christmas” and to, frankly, grow up, and stop talking such unimaginable garbage?

In the end, we will pay almost whatever Brussels demands of us. The alternative, tedious though it is to again point this out, is for the country to set itself up as an apparent beacon of free trade by walking out of the world’s largest free trade area, erecting barriers, devastating its own economy yet further, and knowing full well it is utterly incapable of replicating the benefits of single-market membership through bilateral free trade deals elsewhere.

Certain sections of the public, it is clear to see, are still not even slightly ready for the shock that will be leaving the EU: an act of seismic national damage which has already been made significantly worse by the unprecedented political clown show in charge of it.

That said, some of the more destructive and fantastical outer reaches of the Conservative party appear to be taking their first furtive glances through the telescope that points toward reality. Boris Johnson, for one, appears ready to accept the higher offer – though he, of course, is very much the Renton of the operation.

As they do so, the likes of Robert Halfon should frankly know better than to pander to grievances that he knows to be utterly self-destructive, and may not even be real.

The professionals have arrived. That much has been clear for well over a year. Whatever the protestations, whatever the anger, the deal will be done on their terms or not at all.

And if it is not, then the public really will go bananas.