23 January 2019, The Tablet

Brexit shreds our beloved country with no end to the rancour in sight


There are some political weeks in the life of a nation that you know – even as they unfold – historians will return to again and again. January 2019 is bursting with them, almost every day of it Brexit-inflamed.

As we turned on our radios on Monday 14 January we knew only one thing. By the end of the week we would have written an extraordinary page of our history, but we had no idea what words would be inscribed upon it. For Tuesday 15 January was to be showdown time – the crunch vote on Mrs May’s exit deal and the future relationship framework with the EU27.

It would also be the latest fraught attempt to absorb the result of our burst of plebiscitary democracy (the June 2016 referendum) into the mainstream of our representative democracy – a phenomenon comparable to the clash of two great weather systems.

If the government won it would pave the way at last to a settlement that lifts, at least for a while, the curse of the European Question from our politics in its rawest form. If the results went the other way it could wreck a premiership and bring down a government and make exit day – 29 March – look increasingly unattainable in terms of a deal and a transition period to follow rather than a hard no-deal evacuation from the European Union.
As if all that wasn’t enough tension-raising aplenty, the very constitution was also under strain. Collective Cabinet government was in pieces, with many ministers saying contradictory things and some manoeuvring to succeed Mrs May in No.10 Downing Street.

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