Voices: Joe Biden was right – Britain can’t be trusted

·3-min read

At some point, in the not-very-distant future, Rishi Sunak is likely to have a lot of time to wonder why it was he ever wanted to be prime minister at all.

Should he not have seen the inevitable coming when his party chose Liz Truss over him – and would certainly have chosen Boris Johnson over either of them? That ultimately he wouldn’t be able to ignore forever the overwhelmingly obvious evidence that you simply cannot lead a party that has become entirely deranged?

Within a week of losing more than a thousand seats at local elections, his backbenchers are redoubling their efforts to project themselves as an even more toxic prospect than they were before. Jacob Rees-Mogg is telling him that he has “broken his word” over a promise to scrap thousands of EU laws by the end of the year, a “word” he believes Sunak gave in the form of an odd leadership campaign video featuring a very large shredder.

Rees-Mogg, European Research Group leader Mark Francois and various other wingnuts are screaming “betrayal”. They’re screaming it at Kemi Badenoch specifically, who suddenly wants to take a more “pragmatic” approach to breaking with EU regulations and, she said, “do what is right”.

Both she and Sunak really do seem to think that a pragmatic approach to Brexit is going to pay dividends. It seems unlikely. The whole of British politics – Tory and Labour – are still entirely trapped in a world of purest make believe, in which they have to pretend that Brexit isn’t already massively economically damaging and isn’t only going to get worse.

It is highly questionable whether there is a single voter in the entire country who cares whether various EU regulations are scrapped by the end of 2023 deadline or after.

Jacob Rees-Mogg still seems to think such regulations are holding the country back from making the most of the opportunities of Brexit. But he was the Brexit opportunities minister for almost two years and, by his own admission, the only opportunity he found (despite regularly asking readers of The Sun newspaper to write in with them) was the chance to purchase high-powered South Korean vacuum cleaners – but only if South Korea could be bothered to sell them to us. Which, at the moment, they can’t.

It’s not merely that all these highly tedious and increasingly unhinged infighting damages the party’s reputation. There are precious few people that care about that anymore. But the country’s reputation continues to nosedive.

Today, various Tories (and indeed non-Tories) seem furious that President Biden has said he only visited Northern Ireland last month “to make sure the Brits didn’t screw around and Northern Ireland didn’t walk away from their commitments”.

There have been angry condemnations: from the prime minister’s spokesperson, from various Tory Northern Ireland secretaries for his apparently “regrettable language”.

Let’s have some perspective. They were off-the-cuff remarks from an octogenarian President. Not, taking one example, the carefully selected language of highly qualified lawyer Brandon Lewis, who infamously stood at the despatch box and announced new legislation for the Northern Ireland protocol which he said “breaks international law in a specific and limited way”.

Not the former Downing Street senior adviser Dominic Cummings breezily admitting that the UK government “always intended to ditch the NI protocol”.

And yet Conservatives still imagine themselves justified in claiming offence that a US President has had the temerity to notice such skullduggery and describe it honestly.

The consequences for deliberately and recklessly untrustworthy behaviour is immense reputational damage on the international stage, and that lives longer than a change of leadership.

And one suspects Sunak is about to find out that you can’t placate the unhinged with pragmatism.

There can be no Brexit “pragamatism” which doesn’t ultimately lead to admitting the obvious: that it was a mistake. That there are no upsides, not economically anyway – and nor will there ever be.