Dominic Raab, take a bow in a Tory roll-call of the talentless
‘Ihadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.” Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, ladies and gentlemen, at some event on the tech industry this week. “My wife would say [my Lego collection is] far too large, but I find Lego therapeutic … Everybody who does any difficult or stressful job needs a way to switch off. We all have different ways. Mine is Lego.” Culture secretary Jeremy Wright, ladies and gentlemen, on Talk Radio yesterday morning.
“I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland. I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland, people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.” Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley, ladies and gentlemen, in a political magazine interview this September.
Behold the government of all the talentless: a place where you don’t just think it, but you make extra sure to say it out loud and in public. As the Lego song itself goes: everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team. Or is it? Perhaps you are highly relaxed about the fact that seemingly every cabinet job The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab these days is an outrageous fish-out-of-water comedy, or a Pygmalion-like plot in which two unseen financiers have decided, for a bet, to pass off a rejected Family Fortunes contestant as a secretary of state. Or perhaps, like me, you occasionally wake up screaming: “Wait! Morpheus, come back! I’ve changed my mind! I want the blue pill. GIVE ME BACK THE FUCKING BLUE PILL.”
I truly don’t want to know that anyone in the animal kingdom, let alone in the Department for Exiting the European Union, is not meaningfully aware that the UK is an island. Then again, I am somehow even more horrified by the news that on Friday morning allies of Raab – whose own officials call him Raab C Brexit – were taking the time to brief that he did actually know Britain was an island/archipelago.
I mean, once you’re calling journalists, on behalf of a secretary of state, and your tongue and your teeth and your lips are working together to form the statement,
“Of course Dominic knew Britain was an island”, haven’t you gone way past your personal safe word? When you look in the bathroom mirror, is the face of your eightyear-old self not looking back at you and whispering, “Get out now!”?
At this moment in our national journey, the government makes much more sense when you realise it can only be a massive hidden-camera simulation designed solely to amuse the occupants of a distant planet. Clustered round a visual port somewhere in Andromeda galaxy, interconnected strings of aliens cry with laughter every week at top-rating series Big Brexit, in which the hapless denizens of a Truman-like shitshow fail to realise they are being taken for a ride by their competition-winner overlords. Every UK resident stars.
And so to where we find ourselves, several weeks after the date we were once told was the absolute deadline for domestic agreement on a deal, and the PM can’t even get her own government or parliamentary partners to agree. As I was writing this, transport minister Jo Johnson resigned. The DUP, on whose support Theresa May relies after her Darwin award-winning 2017 election, have accused her of breaking her promises to them. No 10 appears to be the last to know what everyone else has been saying for months: that it was only a matter of time before this particular alien burst out of the government’s chest cavity. Meanwhile, the noises off are pushing no deal with increasing insistence. “We are a big country,” blustered David Davis on Thursday. “We can look after ourselves.”
And yet, are we, and can we? There was a 69-year-old Dutch chap in the news this week who is going to court to argue he should be allowed to formally self-identify as 49 because he reckons he’ll do better on Tinder. Apparently he sees himself as a “young god” whom doctors have told has the body of a 45-year-old. “When I’m 49,” he reasoned, “with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.” I couldn’t help feeling there was a little something of Brexit UK to this gentleman: that sense that you’re a total swashbuckler who’s only being held back by imagined red tape, and that you’d get laid twice as much and twice as filthily under WTO rules.
May’s government is the obnoxious hatchback driver in the Ferrari baseball cap, with negotiators such as Davis veering from ill-mannered to unrealistic. It has squandered much of the negotiating period since article 50 was triggered, acting like its bumper sports the legend “MY OTHER COUNTRY IS A SUPERPOWER”. Incidentally, from the clown car to the car being driven knowingly over a cliff, it’s striking how many of the most apposite Brexit metaphors are car-related. Or, as the more literal leading Brexiteer economist Patrick Minford put it the other week: “You’re going to have to run [the car industry] down, in the same way we ran down the coal and steel industry. These things happen.”
So there you go. Many of us who once thought the UK had been having its post-imperial hangover for a few decades now realise that, during that period, Britain was in fact still drunk. The real hangover, unfortunately, is only just about to kick in.