Over the holiday break I read Gavin Barwell’s Chief of Staff, Notes from Downing Street. As a tale of intrigue, vengeance, backstabbing, delusions (multiple) and incompetence (widespread) it could hardly be bettered.
As you read through the book one thing becomes clear, beyond doubt. The Brexit fights in the cabinet and the wider Tory party that Barwell documents were fights for the ideological soul of the party.
For the most ardent Brexiters, leaving the EU was a means to an end. The end was the completion of what the regarded as the Thatcher revolution, a revolution to turn the UK into a low tax, lightly regulated, entrepreneurial driven economy. Shaking off the shackles of Brussels would allow this to happen. Britannia Unbound. Nigel Farage, one of the main drivers of Brexit, said as much a couple of days ago in an article in the Daily Telegraph, which called for a Thatcher-like leader to replace Boris Johnson.
Ranged against the ultra-Brexiters were the economic pragmatists, Tories who accepted the decision to leave the EU but wanted to do so in such a way as to minimise economic damage. But they were never certain how to do this. They were groping in the dark. Because no country had ever left a prosperous trade bloc before, recreating a border with that bloc which would put new barriers to trade in place, while trying to ensure that there would be no economic costs to so doing. Keep all the benefits, avoid all the obligations. Johnson was not the only one who believed that there was cake to be had for free. They all did.
It is almost an iron law of politics that where there is doubt and uncertainty extremists will be only too willing to claim that they, and they alone, have the answers. The pendulum of politics will swing in their direction. This is what happened with Brexit.