The earliest members of Alcoholics Anonymous offered their famous Twelve Steps, which the drunkard must take in order to recover, born of their own experience. The Twelve Steps are still the foundation of AA. They work because they are taken by people who have hit rock bottom and realise it. The first step says, ‘We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.’
Theresa May’s Twelve Objectives, announced in her outstanding speech at Lancaster House of Tuesday, play a similar role for national recovery, substituting the words ‘European Union’ for ‘alcohol’. Until the June referendum, Mrs May, like millions of others, barely even admitted there was a problem. Between the result of that referendum and this week, she acknowledged that things had to change, but was attracted to half-measures — the political equivalent of trying to drink wine, not spirits, or only after lunch. It did not work. Gradually she understood the meaning of Step Two, coming ‘to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity’. That Power, in the Brexit context, is the independence of a parliamentary democracy. She has now, with speed and courage, reached Step Twelve: ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practise these principles in all our affairs.’
Her speech is the more remarkable, because, except for the final tweakings, she cannot have known exactly what Mr Trump would say up close and personally to Mr Gove. His endorsement of Brexit makes her position look much less lonely. Even more extraordinary, he seems to be making the first break with the orthodoxy of all US administrations that the EU is Europe’s manifest destiny. Not only does he criticise its shortcomings: he predicts its break-up.