27 November 2017
John Stuart Mill called the nineteenth century Tory Party in England the ‘stupidest’ party but he would probably not have hesitated for long in abandoning this relativistic statement as too charitable to its modern, Brextremist variant. With apologies to Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and a few others, he would probably have called it simply the ‘stupid party’: stupid for thinking Brexit a good idea, stupid for thinking that the elected assembly of a representative democracy is bound by the advisory verdict of a narrow referendum result, and stupid for the manner in which it has subsequently sought to give this result effect. As for Donald Trump, the great liberal thinker would just have thrown up his hands in despair, while Grenville-Murray – in a sequel to his hilarious satire on politics in provincial France published in 1871 – might easily have taken him as a model for the bovine mayor of Touscrétins.
One of the most serious consequences of the stupidity of these people is the demise of their diplomacy. Arrogance, bluster and wishful thinking are the hall-marks of Stupid Party posturing and they go into overdrive when entering a negotiation on an issue of vast importance and great public interest such as Brexit. The result is poor preparation, over-estimation of the strength of its hand, public refusal to keep its options open, public assurances of rapid success, alienation of the despised ‘experts’ who might have helped it, loss of respect in the eyes of the other party to the negotiation – and collapse of the talks or a humiliating settlement for which the blame is placed on ‘traitors’ at home. This is all so obvious and has been so widely reported that I shall not bore visitors to this site – or depress myself further – by labouring the evidence. I am writing this now only to draw attention to three recent articles which put a bright spotlight on the problem. The first is a piece in the Guardian (23 November 2017), reporting the ‘near contempt felt by European leaders at the British government’s management of the Brexit negotiations’ revealed in a document leaked from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. The second is a lengthy, jaw-dropping update in the New York Times (24 November 2017) on the extent to which the Trump administration’s diplomacy-lite secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has eviscerated the US Foreign Service. And the third is a passionate follow-up to this published on 27 November by two former US ambassadors, Nicolas Burns and Ryan C. Crocker, ‘Dismantling the Foreign Service’.