It’s bad but not that bad. The train is still on the tracks, though it’s heading in a different direction to the one we Brexiteers wanted. Strong Brexiteers are confounded and reduced to impotence. But so are the rampant Remainers whose fox has been shot.
There’s no hope of being tough in the negotiations. We’ve made ourselves supplicants. Yet that forces the EU to decide whether they want to humiliate us and refuse any deal or whether they’ll be reasonable.
Theresa May won’t be as hard on the EU as she’s been on her Brexiteers. She won’t dare – and has already acknowledged that the humble request can be negotiated down, but the smirks on the faces of Juncker and Tusk when told of the Cabinet resignations are not a good augury.
Having made every possible concession and every effort to, ahem, ‘polish the turd’, the likelihood is that Theresa will now see it whittled away by an implacable EU. The degree to which she accepts this dilution of her oeuvre will be determined by both the viability of what she gets and the mood of an electorate which doesn’t react well to being humiliated.
As for the rampant Remainers, they’ve had it easy up to now with the ability to disguise their real aim – the rejection of the vote of the people – behind claims that they’re opposed to a “strong” Brexit and the call for a new “people’s vote”.
Now these escape routes are closed: they must now either back Theresa’s effort to get the super-soft-Brexit they’ve advocated and defend her against the EU’s determination to refuse that or face a national humiliation; meanwhile Labour, having demanded a soft Brexit and denounced Theresa for being too tough, can’t now oppose her.
As for the demand for a new vote, that was always a con and now becomes a dangerous one. If the EU allows anything like the Andrex Brexit Theresa is aiming for, it becomes otiose. The Tory Party will support it, Labour will split and the electorate will see it as an easy end to an argument it’s bored with.
On the other hand, if the EU behaves with its usual intransigent arrogance, then it alienates a nation which has never particularly liked the EU ever since it was conned into voting for it as a new dawn in 1975.
The full independence many of us wanted to see has been ruled out by government incompetence, the timidity of business and the elite’s contempt for the people. It would in any case have needed tougher measures to rebalance and restructure the economy than the Tory Party was capable of.
Yet provided we achieve the two basics – the ability to come to trade agreements with other countries and control over immigration – Theresa’s plan can still be a basis on which to build independence more slowly. If she can get it.