We should be grateful to Donald Trump.
At a stroke, he has made clear what Brexit really means. Short-cutting through the maze of tariff barriers, customs unions and WTO rules, ignoring the confusion diligently fostered on this side of the pond as to whether access to the single market and being in the single market are the same thing, avoiding the various nauseating fudges offered up by Theresa May, he rips aside the curtain and reveals… himself.
Brexit means Donald Trump.
And here, suddenly, we are on ground that feels a lot firmer: any heaving that is experienced will be located in your stomach, not the landscape. For we know what Donald Trump means. He has told us. He told us every time he encouraged his supporters to chant “Jail the Bitch!” at rallies. He told us when he told an acquaintance that if you were a celebrity you could do what you liked with women. He told us when he sneered at the mother of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq. He did not need also to say that he was going to build a wall to keep out Mexicans and pass a law to keep out Muslims, that he liked nukes and wanted to break up Europe and would put America first: he had already told us who he was.
Well, that’s who he is. And he is President of the United States.
This poses an agonising problem for millions of Americans and a very worrying problem for the rest of the world. (If you doubt this, listen to Atom Man, an interview with former Presidential advisor William Perry in Analysis, BBC Radio 4, January 30th.) However, it poses a particular and particularly acute problem for us British. These islands have voted, narrowly (the result of the vote is invoked ad nauseam, the narrowness of the margin is never mentioned), to leave the EU. The EU accounts for nearly 50 per cent of our exports; we account for 16 per cent of its. For 40 years it has funded our cash-strapped farmers, our needy infrastructure, our top-flight scientific research, and poured money into community centres, sports halls, study abroad for British students and cultural institutions which the state neglects. In its embrace, the City has grown to be one of the financial hubs of the world and London has put on the glitter. The EU has done much more, including prevent further war between the European powers, but never mind that. It’s the money that matters, isn’t it?
It’s the money that matters, and we have turned our backs on it. A cold wind is blowing through Theresa May’s government; it is noticeable in the occasional shakiness of the Prime Minister’s tone. Somebody has just taken the roof off and kicked the doors and windows in. What are we going to do?
But don’t worry, here comes Trump.
It has always been obvious that a Britain leaving the EU would have to seek friends elsewhere and seek them fast. It has also been obvious that the prime candidate would be the USA. The Commonwealth is too distant, too disparate, too scattered, too – frankly – eccentric in a rather British way. What wasn’t obvious was that by the time we needed a hand to hold, that hand would be the unappetising hand of a loose-mouthed, pussy-groping, racist, narcissistic bigot with less than a child’s grasp of foreign policy.
There are times to be ashamed to be British. One was Munich. Munich feels uncomfortably close now, because it was a betrayal of a European nation towards which we should have felt goodwill. This, too, this frenzied rush to a Brexit that will hurt everyone involved and that is against reason, is a betrayal. It betrays comradeship and community, and it betrays them, as did Munich, into the mouths of wolves.
Munich was redeemed. In blood, but by then nothing else would have served.
Perhaps it is not too late. Trump is showing us, in his lurid fashion, the path we must not take. Perhaps it is not too late.