It would take a heart of stone not to have felt a twinge of emotion at least once today, be one a Remainer or a Brexiteer. There was much to feel emotional about.
The sense of jubilation amongst many who have supported Brexit for a lifetime-for them, they must feel as if they had finally come to the Promised Land after decades in the desert-who is their Moses one wonders?
Sympathy for those who genuinely and passionately wanted to Remain (although such sympathies can feel strained when their side of the debate is represented by the Cleggs, Millers and Farrons of the world)- for them, the formal start of Brexit must feel akin to watching the love of your life getting married, and missing your cue to object.
A more general sense of wonder at the choreography that you get at any moment you know to be historic-presidental inaugurations, royal funerals, handing over of an envelope…….
And then, perhaps unusually for a Leave supporter, there is poor Donald Tusk. Say what you like about the man, and many have, but this was not a man having a good day. From the moment Sir Tim Barrow arrived with his letter, the official pictures of the hand over suggest nothing less than a man being presented with a cup of cold sick, And then his press conference. Whilst he has to play for the audience, and It would never do to suggest that the people of Britain are doing anything other than thronging the streets to silently weep (“there is no reason to pretend this is a happy day, either in Brussels or London”), there appeared at the podium a man genuinely upset. Even a cynical Eurosceptic would find it hard to disbelieve his truthfulness when he said “we miss you already”
And yet, this comment, uttered with seemingly honest conviction and some genuine disbelief that such a fate should befall the EU (and on his watch), is pregnant with significance. It prompts two related thoughts.
Firstly, If many across the EU are still genuinely shocked and disbelieving, then it suggests a group think inculcated by the Brussels bubble which in itself, explains why the UK and the EU have long since become incompatible-can the EU, or more specifically the functionaries and politicians who have made it their lives work, genuinely not adapt their thinking and conceive of alternatives to full European integration as one single, dominating goal?
If so, it explains, to paraphrase one Twitter Wag today, why in pursuit of a renegotiation he could sell to the people and save Britain’s EU membership, David Cameron went to Brussels with his begging bowl, only to come back from Brussels lucky to still have the bowl.
He was never going to do more than slow integration. He was never going to end it, and an end to integration, indeed a reverse away from it, back to a more straight forward free trading relationship, has been the settled will of British public opinion since at least Maastricht. There is limited gain in slowing a runaway train heading full speed toward a fallen bridge, if it still goes off the bridge albeit at a slower speed. You need to stop it completely, and then throw it in reverse to fully change your fate.
In the end, Mr Cameron’s attempt to pass off some shiny beads as jewels fooled no one. He got no deal worthy of the name because there was never any deal to be had. To get a deal would have meant to change an entire culture and an entire way of thinking in Brussels.
Not going to happen.
All of which leads to perhaps the more poignant, second, thought. It needn’t have come to this. Donald Tusk could have spent his day sitting in his well apportioned office, doing whatever well paid Eurocrats do, if only the group think had faltered for milliseconds. As many in the leave campaign admit, it would not have taken many concessions to have given David Cameron a deal that would have secured Remain 60% at least.
Alas, mental walls are the last to fall. For the sake of an attachment to an principle of continental homogeneity with well meaning origins, rooted in the ruins of a post war Europe long since gone and in no way relevant to the Europe of today, so very much was lost. For Brussels at least.