Brexit was making us a joke nation even before the blue passports | William Keegan

Did I hear aright? Is the new, or rather “retro”, post-Brexit, true-blue British passport going to be manufactured in France? What a wonderful symbol of the futility and duplicity of the Brexiters’ promise to “take back control”!

And what is this dire threat from the ubiquitous Jacob Rees-Mogg that the UK risks becoming a “joke nation” by giving in on so many fronts to Michel Barnier?

Surely Mr Rees-Mogg has noticed that, thanks to the disruptive antics of himself, his fellow Brexiters, their puppet master Nigel Farage, and the pernicious sway they hold over Theresa May, the UK is already a joke nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Indeed, it is a laughing stock. As the Financial Times journalists George Parker and Alex Barker commented after following my misguided friend David Davis around: “The Brexit secretary may be enthusiastic about leaving the EU but, on his tour around European capitals, he has struggled to find interlocutors who think the project is anything other than mad at worst or an unwelcome distraction at best.”

Now, apart from their well-publicised objections to the continuation of present fishing arrangements, some of the leading Brexiters have been noticeably sanguine in the face of a “transitional” deal heralded by many of my fellow Remainers as a rejection of most of their initial demands. They don’t all agree with Farage that it is “a complete sellout”.

Unless something turns up, this could well amount to a mere postponement of disaster

This, of course, is because unless a great act of prime ministerial or parliamentary statesmanship puts an end to the farce, the Brexiters see the transitional deal as a mere postponement of their plan to take this benighted country to the edge of the cliff.

It may seem like a great victory for the Remain campaign that the plan is for us to remain in the customs union and single market until the end of 2020. But I have two concerns about the optimistic approach to this.

One is that unless something turns up, this could well amount to a mere postponement of disaster. The second is that, on present plans, we shall actually be departing from the EU on 31 March 2019. How do we know that, for all the patience they have exercised so far, the others would make it simple for us to rejoin the full EU, if there is a change of heart after the official beginning of “transition” or “implementation”? Some of us are old enough to recall decades of frustrating efforts to join in the first place.

Whichever way one – at least this one – looks at it, the most sensible thing the prime minister could do is to rise to the occasion, to be true to her own instincts (and, I understand, those of her not-uninfluential husband) and make a Churchillian broadcast to the nation. In this she would explain that – God knows! – she has tried to honour the referendum result and reconcile the conflicting forces within her party, but enough is enough.

It may be that the continuing and mounting damage being wreaked by the government’s austerity programme will finally make more of the electorate wake up to the full implications of what 37% of them voted for.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell recently observed of that shock referendum result on 23 June 2016: “It was like a byelection where everyone’s grievances piled into that one vote.” I agree. The sad thing is that the vote against the misguided Cameron-Osborne austerity programme should have taken place in the general election of 2015, and not in reaction to their rash decision to call that referendum.

It is, incidentally, highly unfortunate for the country that George Osborne, who claims to have had doubts about the wisdom of holding the referendum, did not stand up to be counted at the time. We shall never know, but it is my belief that a strong chancellor – which he certainly was – could have put a stop to the whole idea. To be fair, he is now trying to make amends in his new career as a journalist.

In this, he differs from that old friend of mine, and predecessor of Osborne’s as chancellor, the one and only Lord Lawson of Blaby – or should I say Lord Lawson of La France Profonde, which is where he actually lives.

Lawson sees Brexit as a chance to complete the Thatcherite revolution, which I opposed in these columns at the time, and still do – noting, with some satisfaction, that given so many of the unfortunate economic and social consequences, even the Economist has recently registered doubts about the wonders of the Thatcherism it once espoused.

Happy Easter to all my readers, even my regular Brexiter correspondents!