This needs to be blogged, just for the record. It’s Rafael Behr, who’s been on fire for some time at the Guardian.
Not the burning of heretics type on fire, but his reading of that quarter of history is pleasingly precise. He goes back to the last of the Tudors for his exemplar: the unfanatical Virgin, the first Elizabeth…
This is nothing less than a reformation in the Church of Conservatism, with the authority of Brussels cast as a modern-day Rome. Cameron tried to manage the old schism but the suspicion lingered that his loyalties were divided; that he read from a vernacular Tory bible at home and then jumped on the Eurostar to kiss the papal commission’s ring. Now Theresa May stands before her party like Elizabeth I: a true, Protestant queen, their own Gloriana.
By temperament, the new prime minister is not a fanatic, and the obligation to staff a government with recruits from across the Tory spectrum precludes a purge of heretics. Like Elizabeth, May comes to power with no desire to make “windows into men’s souls”. If ministers want to practise a bit of Europhilia at home, that is their business, but they should not go confessing it in public.
It is striking how quickly this new regime has taken hold. Even quite ardent Tory pro-Europeans are suppressing private fears of an imminent economic blunder for the sake of party loyalty and ambition. Only a handful of backbenchers publicly sound the alarm about Downing Street’s apparent willingness to abandon membership of the European single market. They are dismissed by colleagues – including former remainers – as rogue elements weirdly bent on career suicide.
Misgivings about May’s European position are transmitted mostly in code. Some moderates look to the Treasury for hope, seeing in Philip Hammond’s warnings about Brexit-related “turbulence” a discreet genuflexion to the old religion. Downing Street, meanwhile, eyes George Osborne warily as a dangerous grey cardinal, banished from court but maintaining his old network of allies and spies.
And here’s the masterly end:
Tory pro-Europeans are in the impossible position of using rational argument against faith. If they counsel compromise on migration or the single market, they are accused of talking Britain down or trying to refight the referendum. They have few reinforcements across the political water. Labour is a shambles. The Lib Dems are puny in parliament. Scotland has its own distinct politics, and in Nicola Sturgeon its own remainian queen with her own independence agenda.
The Tories do not speak for all of England, but in the absence of credible opposition they feel as if they do, and will act accordingly. To those millions who did not vote to leave the EU, the message is clear: you are free to pray for whatever you like. Your antique rites will be tolerated. But do not expect your concerns to be represented in the court of Queen Theresa. Be humble instead. Swallow your doubts and take a pew in the reformed national church of Brexit.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty