The other night, I dreamt about Brexit. Awakening to the oppression of an urgent task, it took me a few seconds to realise that my only task was to go back to sleep. I described all this to an MP friend, who said that he had done the same several times, as had a number of his colleagues. But there is a difference between that and a normal bad dream, instantly dispelled by wakefulness. It merely intensifies Brexit nightmares. How long, O Lord.
Sometimes, much of the public comes to a conclusion without plunging into the detail. A few weeks ago, lots of people who had never taken any notice of prorogations or the royal prerogative decided that Boris had been underhand. Now, there is a similar mood about Brexit — but this time, it is on Boris’s side. As for the procrastinators, ‘underhand’ does not begin to express the anger which they are arousing.
That brings us to the Prime Minister, more a phenomenon than a politician. A few months ago, I wrote some disobliging pieces about Boris. I may have been utterly wrong. Government can make extraordinary demands, which apparently well-qualified men cannot satisfy. Think of Peel, Chamberlain and Eden; who would have thought that Attlee would be a far more formidable PM than Eden? Think, indeed, of Gladstone and Cameron, who both had every attribute of statesmanship except success (not that we should necessarily use the past tense about David Cameron, who has only just turned 53). Compare those characters with the outsiders: Churchill, Thatcher and now Boris.
When Brexit is delivered, there will be a lot of wounds to bind up, plus the requirement for oxygen to replace the vast amounts drained to feed the recent fires. There will also be a need for laughter, in judicious quantities. It may be that Premier Boris will be able to cheer people up without sounding like a clown. I had thought that once his ambition and animal energy had carried him to No. 10, Boris would have no idea what to do. Clearly I was underestimating him.
What about his future? Hardly any prime ministers have died peacefully in their political beds. They are usually dispatched by ill-health, the electorate or their own supporters. ‘Peaceful’ is not the first word that comes to mind when considering Boris’s likely trajectory. Then again, ‘surprise’ is a Borisonian word. There will be plenty of that.
We were discussing all this in Bruges, but that was nothing to do with the famous speech. I had come to take a break from Brexit in a city which is full of the last enchantments of the Renaissance. Unlike Venice, it has not been hollowed out. This is a place where real people live and work, eat and drink. The inhabitants of Bruges descend from the less ethereal elements of the Renaissance. There are plenty of jutting jaws, knobbly faces and guttural accents, whose possessors would need only a steel bonnet and matching weskit to resemble Count Joris von der Grote Markt as painted by a minor Flemish master c. 1500.
Bruges produces excellent beer, but the high point of our drinking was from further west. We decided to compare and contrast two excellent champagnes, a Dom Perignon 2003 and a Pol Roger cuvée Winston Churchill 2004. Both lived up to their reputation, but I thought that the Polly Roger took the first prize. It had the serenity of a swan on the Minnewater, reinforced by subtlety and power: a deliciously harmonious bottle. The Dom lost no caste in coming second, and I suspect that it will continue to improve. Not that the Churchill will go over the hill any time soon. The finest champagnes do not age. Let us hope that the same is not true of the Brexit debate.