Brexit shows that idiots and incompetents are in charge in the UK

The lesson of the first World War is that terrible things happen to ordinary countries who neither desired nor deserved what happened next

Recent history provides two extreme examples of government incompetence. Decisions made by people who had no idea what they were doing. Elected politicians incapable of paying attention to details.

The blanket guarantee provided by the Irish government to banks and the British guarantee of “no hard Border” have eerie similarities: poor decisions made by people who were operating way out of their league. Making stuff up as you go along. Taking decisions based on mental tosses of a coin, saying stuff before engaging the brain: all this is the currency of modern policy-making. The advent of artificial intelligence is welcome: any form of intelligence would be an improvement.

Politics requires never admitting to anything. Never own up to mistakes, never ever say 'I don't know' or 'I'm not sure'. Say anything you like – anything at all, any old rubbish will do – but never show weakness. As John Wayne said, never explain, never apologise.

Was anyone shocked this week when UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab inadvertently acknowledged that he is an idiot? Talking about Brexit's impact on the availability of stuff in shops, he was quoted as saying that he hadn't realised that Dover was important to British trade.


“I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this....but if you look at the UK, at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing....”

Logistical difficulties

He also told us that Britain is, apparently, an island, and would, therefore, experience one or two logistical difficulties with imports and exports once it leaves the world’s largest free-trade area.

Almost simultaneously the health secretary issued an appeal to people not to stockpile drugs.

Participating in an outbreak of honesty, the UK’s culture secretary revealed that he does not read very much. If he did he would have noticed the leaking of the deal that will be necessary if there is a no-deal Brexit. And the new backstop to the Border backstop. And the leaked draft deal that everyone hates.

Boris Johnson’s brother Jo surprised everyone with a principled resignation: either a deal or no deal raises serious questions for the ex-transport minister who expects either economic chaos or a deal that nobody wants. According to Johnson, Britain is in its worst political crisis since Suez. All this from a man at the heart of Brexit planning.

The message from the brothers Johnson is actually very important: politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide hate everything about the government's Brexit plans. Jo Johnson said that the proposed deal "unites [Leavers and Remainers] in fraternal dismay".

That spells trouble ahead even if Theresa May brings back a deal from Brussels. She may not have the votes to get the deal through parliament. If that happens anything is possible. For the first time ever pro- and anti-Brexiteers are uniting in a common cause.

Familiar script

The previous Brexit secretary David Davis kept to a more familiar script when he (quite correctly) complained that Britain has adopted rubbish negotiating tactics ever since the referendum. It matters not one jot that he was until very recently in charge of those negotiations. Davis said that Brexit would be progressing smoothly if only he had been in charge. You couldn't make it up.

A no-deal Brexit means drug and food shortages. It will also be terrible for the Irish economy, but at least there will be the irony of a self-induced British famine.

Those shortages may have only just become obvious to the UK cabinet but they are the single most important reason why a deal must be done. That doesn’t necessarily mean a deal will be done. Idiots and incompetents are in charge. The game now is to shift the blame to somebody else – there is plenty more of this to come.

Ordinary punters in financial markets said as soon as our bank guarantee was announced that “the Irish taxpayer is on the hook for everything”. It really was that obvious, that simple.

Similarly, as soon as the British government signed up to the Border guarantee on each of the three times it committed to it, it was told it had created a conundrum that cannot be resolved. One with profound consequences.

Both Johnson brothers were told repeatedly about the consequences of the Border deal they signed up to. They have both been told repeatedly what Brexit implies. The resignation could not have been sparked by any new information.

New deadline

Any conceivable “deal”, even if it gets past Westminster, will just put the big decisions off until 2020. July of that year is apparently the new deadline in the latest draft deal. We may all die of boredom between now and then. Amidst all of the sound and fury of the next few days there will be the usual absence of any thinking about what will actually happen over the longer term.

Businesses that are poorly managed usually wither and die. Countries that are poorly governed rarely expire (although it has been known) but rather just fade away.

History teaches us that bad things happen to well-meaning, essentially decent people. The lesson of the 100th anniversary of the first World War is that terrible things happen to ordinary countries who neither desired nor deserved what happened next.