When the guilt is apportioned in the history classes of tomorrow, who will be the villain of the piece? Who will cop the blame for what Brexit did to Britain?*
There are so many serious contenders that even the speediest of teachers will have trouble profiling the protagonists in a single lesson. Double history on Brexit. The sickie rate that day among pupils will be stupendous.
Many of those currently front of mind will quickly recede in importance and be lucky to make the footnotes. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, David Davis. Big shots today, perhaps, but as time sieves through the story, they will be seen as bit players.
Even Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, two people whose actions have unquestionably influenced the campaign – Farage through long-held conviction, Boris through self-serving ambition – will escape ultimate blame.
All they could ever do was influence. To make the history books, one actually has to decide.
So who are the key characters whose actions tilted the trajectory of this country’s relationship with the world’s largest, most prosperous, trading bloc, just over there, swimming distance away, across the Channel?
In chronological order:
Begin with David Cameron. If it wasn’t for his blasé gamble in promising a referendum to keep his Tory chums happy, while betting he’d be able to back out of it because the general election of 2015 would result in another hung parliament (it didn’t, woe of woes), we wouldn’t be here at all.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and the man who Cameron leaned on for something meaningful to take back home and show the EU was willing to change, decided instead not to take the threat of Britain leaving the EU seriously. It was a calculation the EU should reflect on; the moment they could have held the UK in their arms, but instead turned their backs.
Jeremy Corbyn had the opportunity to campaign hard and win over the one-third of Labour supporters who wanted Brexit (crucially occupying two-thirds of Labour constituencies) but did not then, and has failed to do so ever since. Simply because he dislikes the EU every bit as much as Nigel Farage, but for very different reasons.
No, what the history books will blame Jeremy Corbyn for instead is how he missed his one shot to bring his party to power because he failed to present genuine opposition to the government on this, the issue of our lifetimes. All because of his (erroneous) belief that the rules of the EU stand between him and a great socialist revolution.
With polls consistently showing the Labour still trailing the Tories (Pause here. Can you actually believe that? That Labour has failed to overhaul this most comically shambolic government after almost a decade of crippling austerity and bungled Brexiteering – it is incredible), those dreams may be academic in any event.
And then we come to Theresa May. Our reluctant Brexiteer. The woman who has maintained her grip on power by fudging every critical decision, even to the detriment of our national good.
This week, at an EU summit, our 27 colleague nations instructed her to get a wriggle on with Britain’s negotiating position. It is not reported whether or not they managed to maintain a straight face while they told her that.
They know, as does every single person in the United Kingdom, except – if you believe her – Theresa May, that there is no position. After two years, and with nine months to go, we are still as immaculately progress-free as we were on 24 June 2016.
Of course, there is still time. A little of it. At Chequers next week, this dogmatically-riven cabinet will attempt, and inevitably fail, to find sustainable unity in their approach to Brexit. Even if we do, critical chunks of it (Ireland notably) will be unacceptable to the EU27, what with their dastardly insistence on sticking to the very rules that define their European Union in the first place.
And so, finally at some point in the next couple of months, Theresa May will have kicked the can right to the end of the cul-de-sac she is stuck in. What will she do next?
She can’t quit. They won’t let her. As BBC’s John Pienaar quoted a senior Tory this week, “if she tried to resign we would nail her into her office”. Nobody is dumb enough to step into her leopard-print shoes right now.
And so she will limp on, determinedly, towards the cliff edge of No Deal, all the time muttering to herself “but the people told me, the people told me”. It’s a deranged position.
There is, of course, an alternative; one that appears to be gaining traction in the country at large, at least among those of us who are still paying attention. The option of seeking approval for the eventual handiwork of our government in answering the challenge the people set them two years ago.
You couldn’t wish for anything more democratic or sensible: a people’s vote on the deal.
Has Prime Minister Theresa May got the inclination, courage or ability to explain this to the country and to her party?
What do you think? Me neither.
So when history apportions blame for what became of this once great nation after Brexit, it is Theresa May, weak, vacillating and duplicitous, who will rightly carry the can.