How did you go bankrupt, asks a character in the Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises. Two ways, comes the reply: “Gradually, and then suddenly.” Gradually and suddenly is the story of Brexit. The 2016 vote to quit the EU has drained Britain of energy, purpose and international influence. It happened gradually. Many people have not noticed. Now, suddenly, the end is in view. It may well turn out to be something worse than bankruptcy.
Across Whitehall, committees of civil servants are hurriedly preparing contingency plans against a national emergency. The National Health Service warns it could run out of drugs. Aircraft may be grounded, bank trading rooms shut down. The port of Dover, the vital entry point for food imports, could grind to a halt. Supermarkets say their shelves would empty within days.
These are just a sample of the costs were Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal.
Across the road at Westminster, politics seems oblivious. Hardline Conservative MPs have been collecting signatures to force a vote of confidence in their own prime minister.
these Kamikaze Brexiters declare, would imprison Britain as “a vassal state”. Better, they conclude, to try to put one of their own in No 10, wave two fingers at Brussels and crash out of the union when the Article 50 clock stops at the end of March 2019. Britain, they say, has stood alone before.