I started my first job at Westminster in 1994, more than half a lifetime ago. Almost all of my career has been spent watching politicians, talking to politicians, writing about politicians. I covered the case for war in Iraq and the war’s dismal descent into failure. I was part of the Telegraph team writing about MPs expenses. I’ve written about more ministerial resignations, scandals, failures of public policy and abdications of leadership than I can remember. None of those failures has ever left me quite as bewildered and despairing as I am today, pondering the latest act in the national farce that is Brexit. Bewildered, despairing and surprisingly angry.
Surprisingly because I don’t often get angry with politicians. One of my many failings as a political writer is a reluctance to condemn. Maybe I’ve been captured after years of proximity and familiarity, but I generally see politicians as just as weak and flawed and human as anyone else – no better than the rest of us, but no worse either. But while we all make mistakes, all sometimes lack a little courage, I find it hard to forgive lying. Especially deliberate, persistent and – most of all – consequential lying. And that is really what the Brexit mess is all about: lying. Pretty much everyone involved in this whole sorry mess is lying about something, and sometimes about more than one thing.
It’s hard to know where to begin with the list of lies and liars, but I suppose my old chum David Cameron is as good a start as any. He lied about Europe and immigration: he knew very well it wasn’t the poison that the liars of Ukip said it was. But instead of challenging the lies, he went along with them, then lied by suggesting he believed Britain’s EU relationship was fundamentally flawed, when in fact he knew it worked fairly well.