I’m writing this on the easyJet flight back from Marrakech, where I have just spent a long weekend as a house guest of Rachel Johnson. She had managed to secure a marvellous villa by the name of Ezzahra, about a 20-minute drive from the airport, complete with a pool, spa and paddle tennis court. There were 12 of us in all, five couples and two men travelling solo — Harry Mount, the editor of the Oldie, and Mark Palmer, the travel editor of the Daily Mail. Harry, Mark and I quickly discovered we were the only Leavers in a nest of die-hard Remainers.
Now, it will not come as news to Spectator readers that the result of last year’s referendum has left some pro-Europeans feeling a teensy-weensy bit annoyed. A case in point is Rachel’s husband, Ivo Dawnay, who asks every Leaver he bumps into if they’ve ever woken up at 4 a.m. and thought: ‘Oh my God! What have I done?’ Ivo is probably the most zealous Remainer I know, but Rachel is not far behind and they had a host of reinforcements in the house party — formidable overachievers like Emma Tucker, deputy editor of the Times.
I know from experience that no good comes of discussing Brexit at social gatherings of this kind, so suggested to Rachel beforehand that she declare a moratorium on the topic. She circulated an email to all the houseguests last week, quoting me as saying I was bored with talking about it, then accidentally on purpose copied me in to one of the replies: ‘Tell him we’re not bored and are DYING to hear his justification for the stupidest act of self-harm EVER!’
We managed to avoid the subject for the first 24 hours, but the dam broke on the way back from visiting the Yves St Laurent museum on Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure why that ‘triggered’ the Remainers — perhaps it was the exposure to chic, French cosmopolitanism. On the return journey, Ivo started talking wistfully about the newly elected French President and speculating about whether George Osborne could have become ‘the British Macron’ if only he hadn’t been so cruelly mistreated by Theresa May and forced out of politics. On the other hand, he was a ‘brilliant’ editor of the Evening Standard, perfectly capturing the mood of a capital city boiling with rage over the referendum result. All this was met with enthusiastic nodding from his fellow Remainers in the minibus.
I could restrain myself no longer and said Osborne’s use of the Standard to launch a series of unremitting attacks on the Prime Minister made him look small and embittered. Was he not concerned that his paper’s wholly one-sided coverage of the Brexit negotiations, ridiculing the government at every turn, would damage the prospects of the Conservatives standing in the forthcoming London council elections? Where was his loyalty to all those party members who had steadfastly defended his record as chancellor, even after the debacle of the omnishambles budget? It was as if his vanity had been so badly wounded by the events of last year that he was now determined that his party — and his country — should suffer for having the effrontery to ignore his sagacious advice.
It all kicked off after that. Didn’t I realise the Tories were ‘finished’ as a serious political party, Ivo said? Brexit had already turned Britain into an ‘international laughing stock’ and the economic consequences were guaranteed to be ‘disastrous’ — indeed, were already proving to be so, as multinational companies and American investment banks ‘deserted London for Frankfurt’. The Tories would lose ‘every fucking ward’ in next year’s council elections — deservedly so —and that would remain true even if ‘Nigel bloody Farage’ was the editor of the Standard.
I must say, there is something impressive about the undiminished fury of Remainiacs like Ivo. Every time he looked at me, an expression of irritated bemusement played about his features. This was in spite of our being in absolutely idyllic surroundings, courtesy of Brian Callaghan, the owner of the Villa Ezzahra. (It’s available to rent, by the way: for details see www.ezzahra-morocco.com.) Ivo wanted to talk about nothing else for the remainder of the weekend, even during a delicious Sunday lunch at the Kasbah Bab Ourika hotel in the Atlas Mountains. In fairness, I would almost certainly be as cross as him if my side had lost last year — and probably ignored a plea to stay off the subject.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.