The Brexit Death Spiral
Something changed last week and if you were listening you could hear the pop.
It wasn't the cheers for TIG or the endless screaming of the word "splitters," like nails on a blackboard.
It wasn't the whispering of a deal in the desert which didn't exist.
It wasn't even the mewling sound of another unicorn dying as fraught efforts were made to disentangle Honda and Brexit.
" I dare say this isn't what the residents of Eyam wanted for themselves many years ago, but we now have to consider quarantining ourselves for the long term good of our neighbours or take responsibility for something much worse. "
The pop was the appearance of Brexit's bleak truth, filling a space in the world it had only previously occupied on the other side of the wormhole, where Michael Gove isn't the only person talking sense.
And here we are, staring at something truly horrible and doing what the British do best: pretending it isn't there at all.
We've reached the point where there is no good conclusion to Brexit and Britain faces a choice: take one for the team or be willing participants in the fall of Europe. And no, you are not going to like this.
There's a delusion in Britain, that somehow the pro-EU camp is now winning. Even the latest You Gov polls seems to suggest a 9 point lead for this side should a referendum be held.
But it's not that simple.
The first thing people need to understand is that none of the defects in electoral regulation or the threats of disinformation and hostile campaigns (domestic and foreign) have been addressed. The DCMS report arrived with a whimper and nothing has been implemented that makes any of it better. Truth be told, the situation is worse now than it was in 2016.
And then there are the polls. Which were wrong last time, would be wrong this time, and would still cause the same surprise as 2016 because not only is the legal framework unchanged but the risk has worsened and, worse still, the understanding of the landscape has actually contracted - due to people putting themselves in communication silos where things are safer and more lovely to their ears.
The reality is simply that Leave own the conversation on Facebook, where activism translates from electronic to the street, and they are punching well above their audience on Twitter too.
For example, of 2.7 million monitored interactions across the country's most popular Facebook pages of all political flavours in the last week, the pro-Brexit lobby owned 76.45% of the conversation. And on Twitter, where Leave only really has a quarter of the total audience, it's still in charge of 39.38% of the interactions.
"It really shouldn't be so difficult for the pro-EU side of the argument to understand that being punched repeatedly in the face isn't boxing."
On both platforms, Leave groups dominate in terms of engagement too and that's without even looking at what they are paying for - organically, Leave EU's Facebook page generated the same reach as spending £311,000 over the last week would have.
To set that in some context, Leave EU had an engagement rate of 6.52% over the last week compared to say People's Vote with their paltry 0.38% engagement rate and equivalent organic value of £9,100.
Then there are those paid adverts to consider. Britain's Future spent £46,041 last week and saw an engagement return of 22.41%, which is solid despite it being a bad week for them.
It really shouldn't be so difficult for the pro-EU side of the argument to understand that being punched repeatedly in the face isn't boxing.
No matter what anyone throws at the Leave audience, nothing sticks. Not even Honda. The base is firm, much in the same way as Trump's is. And this is where the pop of suddenly filled space came from, because they aren't just ahead of the game on Social Media.
"Should our MPs vote to betray us and extend Article 50 we will be making a huge announcement. You will be the first to have the opportunity to get involved in what will be a genuine turning point in UK history."
As news tumbled out from Italy, that Lega Nord are Putin funded - something long known but an apparent surprise - the risks to the forthcoming EU elections became even more obvious. The far-right will use every trick they've used successfully so far, in full co-operation with Russia, to attack the integrity of the EU.
And our very own domestic threat is standing ready to join in, with Farage's Brexit Party well-positioned to take whatever seats it wants here or abroad - a threat the British dismiss at their peril as that particular party could easily wipe out both the Conservatives and Labour using the strength of the Leave base and face next to no organised opposition in doing so.
But what does this have to do with Brexit really and why is there a threat greater than we've seen so far while many are celebrating its demise?
Well, last week this email was sent out by the Leave Means Leave group: "Over the weekend you might have heard that the People’s Vote will be holding a rally in Westminster on the 23rd of March. A number of you were very keen to know what plans Leave Means Leave has for the run-up to Brexit day and I am writing to you today, in a confidential capacity, to state clearly that you can be assured Leave Means Leave has some big plans for the future. Should our MPs vote to betray us and extend Article 50 we will be making a huge announcement. You will be the first to have the opportunity to get involved in what will be a genuine turning point in UK history. I hope you understand the need for us to play our cards close to our chest. As ever we are working to achieve what the people voted for: a WTO Brexit which sets Britain free and we thank you for your immense support in achieving this."
And over the weekend the pro-Leave lobby came out in support of a lengthy extension of article 50, with even Louise Mensch pitching in.
While this was cheered by pro-EU campaigners - and will be seen as the ultimate win - it's bad. Very, very bad.
Those wishing to remain are confined to the outcomes of revocation (which is unlikely given May's promise to Conservative members who have mandated she carries out Brexit on time) and a second vote (which would likely be lost). The Brexiteers have their eyes on a much bolder prize. And it is well within reach.
"The Brexit groups are strategically positioned to win and win and win again."
The Brexit groups are strategically positioned to win and win and win again.
Firstly, if Brexit were revoked they could form a new party and instantly find themselves with the keys to Number 10 at any subsequent election, with the only real opposition coming from a coalition of TIG, the Lib Dems, and Greens which wouldn't be sufficient.
Due to the landscape, this Brexit party could easily take 80% of the Conservative vote and the majority of what's usefully left of Labour with it.
Secondly, given the divisions within the House of Commons, a planned distribution of votes by pro-Brexit MPs - who are very well organised against the backdrop of chaos - would be sufficient to prevent either the Kyle (People's Vote amendment) or Cooper/Letwin (anti no deal Bill) from passing. All they would have to do is estimate the number of Tory rebels leaning toward Cooper/Letwin and the Labour whip which is likely to fall towards Kyle, and take the numbers down for each.
This would facilitate a no deal exit.
Thirdly, they don't even need to try to defeat May's deal when it returns in March, again taking us to a no deal exit.
Fourthly, if by some miracle the deal did get across the line, they could easily take it down before the end of the transition period, leaving us with no deal, albeit late.
Fifth, the pro-Brexit groups and MPs continue to offend, blame, insult, and otherwise negatively lobby the EU27 nations individually (see Slovenia, for example) reducing the likelihood that a unanimous agreement can be reached to extend Article 50 even if requested by Britain. Leaving us with no deal and the perfect excuse to roll out the intransigence line.
All the while appetite for extension reduces more naturally over time in any case - the EU requires stability and that comes from a decision.
And on, and on, and on.
But this is where things get very nasty indeed and this is the bit nobody is going to like at all.
" Much as being punched in the face isn't boxing, setting fire to your neighbour's house out of spite isn't British. "
In these scenarios, there is no extension to Article 50 and the impact of no deal is largely contained to the UK while the EU remains intact as a co-operative of 27 unified nations.
And this is where we have to confront the necessity to take one for the team because the alternative is grimmer still.
Michel Barnier suggested a lengthy extension may well be a threat May could wield in order to bring Brexiteers into line and vote for her deal, but this has backfired and they have seized upon it as an opportunity.
If Britain did get an extension of 21 months, with full membership to continue until exit day, the Brexit Party would storm to seats in the EU Parliament at the spring elections and spend nearly two years working with the Putin-backed far-right to dismantle the project from the inside.
In the end, there would be nothing left to remain in.
This is the truth which popped into being.
Brexit is a disease and Britain is a contagion risk which could unpick the fabric of the whole of Europe and leave millions more people facing much worse than even no deal.
The bleak end to all this is that we are a plague village and we have to take the decision whether to quarantine ourselves or knowingly infect everyone else.
I dare say this isn't what the residents of Eyam wanted for themselves many years ago, but we too have to consider cutting ourselves off for the long-term good of our neighbours or take responsibility for something even worse.
Much as being punched in the face isn't boxing, setting fire to your neighbour's house out of spite isn't British.
This is the Brexit death spiral and we need to consider taking no deal on the chin to prevent it.