Without question, the most concerning part of Brexit discourse over the past few years has been how the most stubborn of Leave campaigners have doubled down on erroneous positions, adopting ever more extreme views as the jaws of reality bite down on our attempts to leave the EU.
Faced with genuine complexity and immovable obstacles, those who maintained that Brexit would be easy are becoming increasingly desperate and erratic in their prescriptions for how things might be saved. Problems that were once dismissed as trivialities or as Project Fear are now rapping sharply at the door. First among these is probably the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
At one point, serious advocacy of no deal was almost unthinkable. When I worked on the Vote Leave campaign, no one wanted that; we all thought getting a deal would be much simpler. Fast forward three years and it has become a mainstay within the Brexit narrative.
There are even, on the more extreme fringes of the Leave campaign, individuals who have called for the UK’s withdrawal from World Trade Organisation structures – apparently under the assumption that in doing so the UK will be able to recover as much of its pooled sovereignty as possible.
Things have not stopped here. Hardliner Leave figures have become adept at distributing blame outside their own circle, and now even the Queen has been found wanting. On Monday evening she gave her Royal Assent to the Cooper-Letwin Bill, which sought to formalise parliament’s anti no-deal Brexit stance.
Andrew Lilico has been one of Brexit’s most bizarre and outspoken commentators. He was dragged from obscurity by a Leave campaign scrambling for supporters who could offer some kind of counter argument to the legions of economists warning of Brexit’s dangers. His latest intervention was to brand the monarchy “no longer fit for purpose” in an extraordinary tweet reacting to the passing of the Bill.
He was backed up by Suzanne Evans, the former Ukip leadership candidate, who described his comment as “spot on”.
What makes these quasi-Republican conversions so astonishing is that Brexit was supposed to strengthen the role of parliament in British law and policymaking. So, in some senses, not only has Her Majesty done nothing wrong in passing legislation approved by parliament, she has in fact stood firmly behind the most central principle in the (unwritten) British constitution: namely that parliament is sovereign.
The fury expressed by fundamentalist Leave campaigners towards our political institutions is, more often than not, a sign that our constitution works. John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, was merely following convention when he disallowed Meaningful Vote 3 without substantial changes to the motion. Parliament challenging an arrogant executive for control over the direction of Brexit is part and parcel of a parliamentary democracy.
These emotionally driven attacks on the Queen and her constitutional role only highlight a desperation on the part of a campaign which is destined to eat itself to death. The attacks on “enemies of democracy” have now run the gamut through the judiciary, to parliament, and now to the gates of Buckingham Palace.
The vanguard of the Brexit revolution has quite a track record of denigrating the political and democratic institutions it claimed to want to strengthen.
The Brexit ideologues would sooner barbecue their grandmothers than acknowledge any misjudgment of the biggest issue in post-war British politics. Admittedly, changing one’s mind can be difficult – especially for public figures. But the constant mining for excuses, however irrational and absurd, is intellectually unhealthy. The fact that is has become so normal, is a worrying sign for British democracy.
The way forward is only bright if those at the forefront of Brexit take responsibility. Honesty and self-awareness are the two ingredients missing from the Brexit cake; an acceptance that there were indeed problems that could damage people’s lives. Without that we cannot hope to escape this political crisis.
Andrew Lilico would rather pin the blame on the Queen than look to his own extravagant flaws. He has not made a case for a new republic, but he has said a lot about what Brexit has truly become.
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