Matthew Parris

I suspect that Brexit is driving me mad – but I will not shut up

12 May 2018

9:00 AM

12 May 2018

9:00 AM

Rosé wine is, I know, considered naff. Were you unaware of this you’d fast conclude as much from the incidence of lifestyle commentary informing us that rosé is newly smart. As with those columns advising that everyone is drinking sherry now, or that some prosecco is actually OK, or that men will be wearing skirts this summer, it’s usually a safe assumption that the opposite is true but an enterprising journalist aims to surprise us with an amusing unlikelihood.

Anyway, I love rosé wine and we had brought a case of pretty inexpensive stuff back from Rioja, of all places. The bank holiday weather was glorious, the llamas were frolicking and blackbirds sang in the wood as I sat outside in the Derbyshire sun and sipped.

But there was a shadow. Something troubled my soul. In the immediate it was a rancid little attack on Douglas Hogg by Charles Moore in the Telegraph. Douglas sits in the Lords and no doubt has a title but these things mean little to me and I shall not bother with titles: one leaves that kind of thing to Mr Moore. I just know Douglas as a valiant friend, a kind heart and a prosecuting intellect: a man whose sense of public duty and personal honour is almost too keen for his own tranquillity.

It will be beneath him to answer or even care about a mean-spirited and gratuitous piece of spite from a journalist who appears to have a grudge against him for even being a peer, let alone taking a different view on Brexit from Mr Moore, and Douglas will be cross with me for even writing about this. So I shall desist — but only after a gentle reminder to Charles that we cannot all be in the House of Lords, and no doubt Moore’s time will come once his lot are in charge and hurtling, whooping like Dr Strangelove, towards perdition, while Douglas and I and all the sensible people are penned up in re-education camps.

So as I write this the Hoggs will be somewhere in the Lincolnshire sunshine and feeling less troubled than do I. But there’s no denying it. My spirit is restless and I must confess. This Brexit thing is driving me slightly mad. And I do mean that clinically: not as a rhetorical flourish. My mental state, like that of so many I know on both sides of the Remain/Brexit divide, is capable of medical diagnosis. A shaft of insanity has pierced our interior lives. I really am becoming a Remainiac.

Is it not the first and clearest indication that the balance of one’s mind has been disturbed that, when having done all one reasonably can to achieve a result, one simply cannot let something go? What is the point of waking up at 3 a.m. and fretting sleepless until sunrise that we are leaving the European Union? What is the point of reading every one of the Times readers’ online posts beneath one’s column (they numbered more than a thousand last Saturday) and actually trying to answer scores of those many that are critical of one’s point of view? One knows perfectly well one will never change their minds, and they know perfectly well they will never change one’s own. So what are we doing staring at our stupid screens and taking verbal jabs at each other when outside the sun is shining?

What is the point of trying to persuade myself that Tory MPs who are my friends must only be pretending to be Leavers because they’re nice people, and sane, and surely cannot believe all that European Reform Group guff? Yes, they are nice people. Yes, they are sane. And yes, they really do want to leave the European Union. ‘End of’, as the Brexit goons like to say, thinking it’s terribly clever. Can I not just accept this, and move on?

Well (you may say), isn’t that what fierce public debate on important questions of politics is all about? But no, not really. In my time I’ve taken sides with some passion on many great political questions, variously suffering reverses, chalking up victories or acknowledging myself impotent to influence the outcome — yet have always been able to sleep. But this ridiculous Brexit thing is spoiling my summer, spoiling my life; and I can see it’s doing the same for my adversaries on the Leave side too. I’m beginning to pine for a perhaps-imagined golden age when a Conservative-led coalition was in power and we didn’t all hate each other and the EU thing — whichever side you took — was just a minor irritation.

I mentioned the first indication of a disturbed mental balance: being unable to let something go. But I think there’s a second too, perhaps more worrying still. It’s when you self-diagnose and know this is the case, know you’re going crazy, know you’re self-harming, know that friends who tell you to leave Chazza alone because he isn’t worth it, are right — yet feel no inclination at all to mend your ways.

Like the paranoiac who is persuaded by the patient rationality of a kindly counsellor that ‘they’ are not all out to get him, but pursues his own mad train of reasoning undeterred by what he accepts to be wise advice, I rave on into the night.

I know it’s doing no good. I know I’m boring my readers; know there’s almost nothing left to be said; know that the voice in my head, my mother’s voice, telling me I just need a good night’s sleep, is right. But I’m not going to take a blind bit of notice of it. Having seen friends and colleagues drawn to their professional ruin by a fixation they cannot shake off, I resolve this summer to trudge forward, head down just like them, towards the wreck of whatever reputation I have left for dispassionate objectivity.

My error is evident to me. Eyes open, I march on into it. I have not the slightest intention of shutting up.

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