As the dust starts to settle, Sean Walsh examines the spiritual and political physics of yesterday evening's historic Parliamentary vote.

So, in the end the number of votes in favour was less than the size of the majority against. In normal times the mathematics of the situation would be sufficient to precipitate the departure of a Prime Minister. But normal times are no more. Metaphorically, we are seeing the displacement of classical physics by quantum theory: political phenomena previously thought to be law-governed and predictable have been shown instead to be paradoxical and inherently indeterminate. Brexit has introduced a new political physics, and the uncertainty so disparaged by the Remain Establishment is now firmly embedded in the structure of things.

We are where we are because in 2016 Mrs May chose accommodation over reconciliation in a situation in which an accommodation was logically unavailable ? there is no Third Way Brexit. Some choices simply are binary. Because she was seeking what was never there, the accommodation became the end in itself and whether it actually delivered the 2016 instruction came to be irrelevant. She turned into the person so desperate to find her car keys that she has forgotten why she needed to drive anywhere in the first place.

Her execrable "agreement" became the vehicle of this accommodation and what we are experiencing is the reductio ad absurdum of a process which incorporated a logical contradiction. There was no need for an agreement to withdraw when we were in a situation where we had been instructed to withdraw. Her "withdrawal agreement" is not in any case an agreement but a collection of unacceptable constraints on a future negotiation. The UK has been turned into the captive who has foolishly agreed to the terms of reference for a future relationship with her captor while still suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

This fallacy of accommodation was then used by the Remain Establishment to construct a fallacy of interpretation by peddling the line that what the Leave decision "means" has all to do with how people thought they were voting. In truth and in practical terms the decision has nothing to do with that. The referendum decision established an obligation not of interpretation but of action.

If we submitted to Anna Soubry five different Brexit proposals, each a different version of a proposed future EU-UK partnership we can be fairly certain of her response. She would pause, take a sip of her second glass of chardonnay (it's been a long day, a man in a yellow vest has called her a bad word), and with an almost-convincing expression of fake sincerity tell us that this is all very well, but how can we be certain that any of these proposals is a fair expression of "what people thought they were voting for"? And from the fact that we cannot be certain that any proposal is a fair reflection of "what people voted for" it follows, she will insist, that none of them are. From which it further follows -she raises her glass again- that Brexit is in principle not deliverable.

This is logically equivalent to arguing that there is no such thing as the date because a man who has received a blow to the head cannot tell us which day of the week it is. The fallacy reveals itself after a moment's thought. Unfortunately, a moment's thought is a moment's effort too long for the opinion-determining classes. The real test of any proposed Brexit is not that it demonstrates conformity with the presumed intentions of a fictitious, composite Leave voter, but whether it is consistent with leaving the EU. And the primary determinant of that is the character of the EU itself.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

The European Union is a project with a stated aim of "ever closer union". The institutional structures of the EU -political, economic and legal- are subservient to that project. The project is teleological, and the intended end state is a sort of political singularity in which all last vestiges of national identity and sovereignty are dissolved.

All this is well known. But the EU project is tyrannical not merely at the level of its defining structures. The project also incubates a spiritual sickness in those of us who are governed by it. St Thomas Aquinas correctly pointed out that it is foolish to attempt to be happy by filling oneself with the false (or secondary) goods of wealth, power, honour and pleasure. True happiness is to be found in the realization of our nature as rational beings. Our souls are constituted in such a way as to be directed towards certain ends. Political activity ordered to the common good is one such end. The EU arrogates to itself all meaningful political activity; and because it manages to pull off the trick of being both intrusive and remote it robs the rest of us of the exercise of that side of our nature.  The EU citizen has, in short, no say in what counts as the common good and no means of meaningfully participating in its organization.

We should not be sceptical of this analysis merely on grounds of its medieval provenance. Our psychologies are to a large extent fixed: this is how Homer and Shakespeare can continue to talk to us from the other side of the Enlightenment divide. And St Thomas' moral psychology is relevant here: those that argue against Brexit on the grounds of pure economics are overlooking the fact that Brexit is the expression of a genuinely moral idea, and one that is not exhausted by the dilatory terms of the Remainer case. "Europe" no longer designates a culture that gifted us Mozart, Titian and Proust but a system of petty intrusions predicated upon a political ideology. For most of us the vote to vacate that system was motivated not by immature nationalism but by a keen sense of spiritual loss.

So, to return to the question: what counts as properly leaving a set of institutions like this?

Mrs May's "Agreement" is consistent with leaving the EU to about the same extent as a bunch of flowers containing a card saying "Thanks for the ride" would be consistent with leaving a relationship with Alex Forrest. It served only to expose and then amplify the exigent reasons for getting out in the first place. For a version of Brexit to be consistent with leaving the EU it is necessary that it takes us outside the structures of the EU institutions that are the engine of political union: single market, customs union and its ersatz (and expediently flexible)legal system.

This is why those like Boris Johnson who argue that May's proposal would leave us in the role of a vassal state have in fact understated the level of energy needed to escape the project. To extend the physics metaphor in the direction of cosmology: the EU is like a Black Hole, significantly distorting the geometry of the space around it. An agreement like May's would leave us in the position of a lump of rock that has caught its attention. It is in the nature of Black Holes that they are indifferent to the reasons for the rock being there in the first place.

So what next? As with Schrodinger's cat it is not clear whether, politically speaking, the Prime Minister is alive or dead. But were she to dilute her proposals yet further then that would be a failure of both imagination and character. For that reason, I fully expect her to try. I notice that she is being praised in some parts of the media for the energy she is showing in her agenda of bad faith. Forgive me if I decline to join in. It seems to me that vice is not transformed into virtue merely because it is vigorously pursued.

19 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy