At Deltapoll, we asked Leave voters in Britain to choose between leaving the #EU and peace in #NorthernIreland. Nearly 6 out of 10 said the UK leaving the EU was more important. #Brexit pic.twitter.com/0FqMJAJZgN
— Joe Twyman (@JoeTwyman) July 31, 2018
So now we know. A majority of Leavers are stark staring bonkers. The signs had always been there: the swivel-eyed attacks on the judiciary as enemies of the people for giving judgment in a case, on the governor of the Bank of England for doing his job, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having regard to fiscal prudence, calling Remain supporters saboteurs and traitors and exulting in the Prime Minister’s condemnation of citizens of nowhere. The most recent hate figure is the Electoral Commission for having the temerity to investigate electoral offences committed by Vote Leave.
There had even been polling that should have given us a clue. A year ago YouGov recorded that 61% of Leave voters thought that significant damage to the British economy would be a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of the EU. A plurality thought that Brexit causing you or members of your family to lose their job to be a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of the EU. This was largely taken as an expression of intensity of feeling: the polling was taken seriously but not literally.
Just this last week we have had a poll showing that 58% of Leave voters rated Britain leaving the EU as more important than maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. This rose to 63% among Conservative Leavers.
Some commentators tried to explain this away as an unwillingness among Leavers to be cowed by terrorism. Except there had already been separate polling showing that a strikingly similar 63% of English Leavers thought that even if part of the price of Brexit was Northern Ireland leaving the UK and reuniting with the rest of Ireland, that would be a price worth paying. Similarly, 61% of English Leavers thought that even if part of the price of Brexit was Scotland leaving the UK that also would be a price worth paying.
All the evidence points one way: the polling needs to be taken literally. Something like a third of the population is so strongly motivated for Britain to leave the EU that any consequence up to and including the destruction of the United Kingdom and the outbreak of violence is acceptable.
More polling would be useful. Would the collapse of the NHS be a price worth paying? How about the independence of London? How about a massacre of the first born? It would be useful to know the limits to which Leavers would prioritise Brexit. Their hatred of the EU has so far yet to be fathomed.
The analysis that this reaction needs is less political and more psychiatric. How can it be that a third of the population can have such crazed priorities?
You have to pity the politicians that must bargain with such a large feral segment of society (or you would if they had not played such a large part in creating it). Some earnest commentators will tell us that the concerns of these voters must be listened to and addressed. But voters, even a fairly large section of voters, do not automatically possess oracular wisdom. We need to bear in mind the possibility that they have been driven doolally. The evidence is pointing strongly that way.
All of this has betting implications. First, if like me you believe that the ERG have somewhere between 60 and 100 MPs within their penumbra, the chances of a Conservative leadership contest in the short term are slim. The uncrazed majority of Conservative MPs will not risk the ERG getting their man into the last two for the membership to consider because it looks highly likely that the membership are going to choose the most Leavey candidate available regardless of any other defects: omnia vincit Brexit. Theresa May might need to suffer any number of indignities but she is the nurse whose hand will be clung to for fear of something worse.
Next, if a deal is done between Britain and the EU (and I expect it will, given this is in control of the government, which retains a tenuous and incoherent grip on sanity, and MPs, of whom only a relatively small sliver share the majority Leave obsession), that deal will command no legitimacy with either Remainers or Leavers. There are going to be two simultaneous stab-in-the-back myths circulating simultaneously. This ain’t going away any time soon.
However unpalatable it might be, a third of the population makes for a tempting target market. Nigel Farage is already sniffing around trying to work out how he can make himself relevant again. If the Conservative party looks as though it has failed to deliver Brexit in the minds of these diehards, he stands a very good chance of doing just that.
So when that Conservative leadership contest does come, the winner will probably be someone who can present themselves as a hardline uncompromising Leaver, regardless of their other qualities. Boris Johnson is now manifestly unfit for the top job. He might yet get it.
All of this in turn will shore up the opposition to Brexit. Remember, polls are now showing a clear lead for Remain over any individual form of Brexit. With the government seeming to be in the grip of ideologically-driven obsessives, the unconverted are going to be casting around for the most effective way of opposing them. Right now, for all its defects, that looks likely to be Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
None of this sounds like good news for Britain. It isn’t. A third of the population want to burn the house down and right now no one is manning a hose. Who knows how much is going to survive their efforts?