CHRISTOPHER BOOKER THE LAST WORD
If the Brexit negotiations are a game of chess, Theresa May is dangerously close to checkmate
Two years ago, after Theresa May’s fateful decision that she wanted us not just to leave the EU but to shut ourselves off from “frictionless” access to the export market which provides one pound in every eight we earn as a nation, I wrote that we seemed to be embarking on a game of snakes and ladders where we were determined to avoid every ladder that might help us to climb the board towards the desired goal, and to seek out every snake which would slide us back down again to square one.
Another sporting analogy since used by others has been that which chess players call zugzwang. This is where a player reaches a position where any subsequent move will be disastrous for him.
Such is the position we have boxed ourselves into today, where MPS are this week faced with a choice between the devil and the raging sea. On one hand our MPS can vote for a deal imposed on us by the EU, which would leave us much worse off than we are now. On the other, we can drop out of the EU with “no deal” for what Mrs May only coyly calls “uncharted territory” although she must now realise this would be a far greater disaster than her own “bad deal”.
The real problem, of course, is that our politicians have got themselves into such a hopelessly ill-informed muddle that there is no longer a Commons majority in support of any next move we might make. The various vociferous factions all know what they are against, but they cannot agree on any positive move that might dig us out of the gaping hole they have all unwittingly conspired to get us into.
We still hear one lunatic fringe claiming that, if we leave without a deal, we can somehow just rely on those fabled “WTO rules”. In my view that option doesn’t exist – with the WTO merely providing principles, which can only take force when used to shape a formal trade agreement.
Another bunch clamours ever more loudly for a second referendum, which would take months to set up and plunge the country into an even more toxic state of chaos than it is in already.
For two years these groups have been tearing themselves apart over one little bubble of make-believe after another, to the point where we now seem be sliding by default towards the worst possible option of all: an economic, social and political catastrophe far greater than most people have yet begun to imagine, as we shall only discover when it hits us.
The fault for this lies squarely with our entire political class. Locked away with the media in their Westminster bubble, they never began to understand the reality of what we were up against, and how much of this mess could sensibly have been avoided. One cannot think of any time in history when the standing of British politicians, either with the public at large or in the eyes of the outside world, has ever – quite deservedly – been lower.
Despite his unnerving resemblance to a mad bull rampaging through a china shop, there have been major political issues on which, in his willingness to defy prevailing liberal groupthink, President Trump has got it heroically right, and for good reasons.
One was his decision to pull the US out of that make-believe event, the Paris climate accord, because he recognised that, for all the self-deception of the West, the rest of the world, led by China and India, never had any intention of reducing their CO2 emissions. Another was his decision to pull out of the equally fraudulent nuclear deal with Iran, which never intended to observe it, and only used the West’s unfreezing of the country’s assets to finance its role as the major sponsor of terrorism and destabilisation all across the Middle East.
But the maddest thought ever to enter Trump’s wild and whirling head was his obsession with building a wall along the Mexican border. So long as he stuck with it, this seemed more than any to be the issue which would finally catch him out.
The Democrats in their own way may not be any better than Trump. But in those dismally degrading scenes in Washington and the Oval Office we are looking at the beginning of the end of easily the oddest Presidency in America’s history.
We now seem to be sliding towards the worst option of all