Get set for Brexit: Indicative Day – the one where the Grand Wizards turn on each other | Marina Hyde

Draw near, true believers, for these are dark days for the ERG Brexit ultras. The Fellowship of the Ringpieces finds itself divided on their next move, and may yet be bitterly sundered as they ponder the big question: could they honestly have played it worse?

Before we help them answer it, a quick update on which bit of Blunderland we’ve tumbled into now. Late on Monday night, the House of Commons voted to take control of the parliamentary agenda and attempt to break the Brexit deadlock via a series of indicative votes masterminded by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin. A clue, a clue! Our kingdom for a clue! Like all initiatives handled by Oliver Letwin since the 1980s, it promises to go spectacularly wrong in ways we haven’t even thought of yet, but let’s pretend otherwise before the shitstorm gets properly under way on Wednesday.

The Commons took this momentous decision after yet another of its Brexit endurance debates, all of which now resemble the grim Depression-era dance marathons of They Shoot Horses Don’t They? Lowlights included Kate Hoey insisting that no deal is simply “a different type of deal”, in that way that farmers will agree that no rainfall is simply a different type of rainfall. Or, indeed, that farmers will agree that no deal is simply a different type of deal, as they prepared to slaughter the estimated 10 million lambs they would not be able to export to the EU.

Reflecting on the Commons decision to take the prime minister into special measures, the No 10 spokesman said May was not happy with it: “She has said that tying the government’s hands in this way by seeking to commandeer the order paper would have far-reaching implications for the way that the UK is governed and the balance of powers and responsibilities in our democratic institutions.”

Mmm. You did that, babe. All you. By way of a reminder, Theresa May’s major intervention in the 2015 general election campaign – she was home secretary at the time – was to warn that a Labour government propped up by the SNP could be “the greatest constitutional crisis since the abdication”. Yes, well. Hold my sherry and all that. In fact, as many contemporary accounts show, almost everyone normal hugely enjoyed the abdication soap opera back in 1936, as is possible with the type of national drama that doesn’t end in the silence of 10 million lambs and economic holy war on the poor.

For some ERG crusaders, though, Monday’s vote all too belatedly appeared to put things in perspective. This morning, Jacob Rees-Mogg was suggesting he would now vote for May’s deal, which has infuriated many of those who have formed a personality cult around the personality of Jacob Rees-Mogg (surely the last people who should be risking medicine shortages).

Naturally, some are still fighting the mad idea that voting for Brexit might be the best way to get Brexit. Take the ERG vice-chair, Mark Francois, a sort of inflatable idiot who has spent the past few months bobbing around the broadcast studios like some remnant of the worst ever stag weekend. Can someone please deflate it? Otherwise we will continue to have situations like the one this morning, when Mark explained to Talkradio: “Europe is free because of us.” I mean … I don’t mean to come across as tolerably informed, but Mr Francois’ recent historical interjections have been of such staggering imbecility that they suggest not simply that he has failed to understand the contributions of the Soviet Union and the United States to the second world war – that is a given – but that the very existence of those powers would be news to him.

And all this after the week had started so well for the Brexiters, who were summoned to Chequers on Sunday in an episode we’ll call Shitheads Assemble. All the big hitters were there, as well as Steve Baker, with Iain Duncan Smith bombing down in his open-top Morgan like they were giving out free girlfriends. Jacob Rees-Mogg was accompanied by his son, which made sense, given that Rees-Mogg has previously spoken of being taken to Chequers himself as a child, where he says Ted Heath gave him Garibaldi biscuits. So rather than fussing about silly things like jobs or the economy, try to picture Brexit as a great dynastic continuation, and a reminder that the likes of the Rees-Moggs essentially believe this country should be grateful that they pass it down from claw to claw – slightly more broken each time, of course, but no less of an amusing second career for all that.

But what of Boris Johnson? By Sunday night, the erstwhile foreign secretary had unleashed another auto-parodic Daily Telegraph column quoting the God of Exodus, imploring: “Let my people go.” Oh dear. Even when he most needs to give the impression that he does, Boris Johnson is a man still unable to take himself seriously. That is his tragedy; unfortunately, he is ours.

Even as he seeks to present himself as the answer to the mess he landed us in, his eyes flicker with the half-amused, half-deranged smirk of the cornered villain. All photos of Boris Johnson now look like they were snatched through the windows of a security van taking a high profile offender from court to begin his sentence. And all his newspaper columns read like the letters that offender might write from prison to one of the 15 fiancees that tend to be acquired in these situations.

Inevitably, then, the Brexit ultras are turning on each other, with Arron Banks’s Leave.EU outfit furiously reminding Rees-Mogg that he recently said the deal made the UK a “slave state”. It does make you wonder whether Rees-Mogg really knows what a “slave state” historically is. Then again, perhaps he does, as the ERG were informally nicknaming themselves the Grand Wizards on Monday night. “I’m sorry, is this for real?” inquired George Osborne on Twitter. “No it’s not,” shot back Steve Baker.

And yet, isn’t it slightly? This afternoon the Brexiter Suella Braverman had opted to cast the Brexit fight as “a war against cultural Marxism”. Challenged on this term’s deep connection with the antisemitic far right, Braverman insisted it was still definitely the one she had meant to use. In the audience at the Bruges Group event at which she’d said it, two men overheard were overheard discussing the formation of a street movement called the blue shirts – Irish fascism klaxon! – to riot until Brexit is delivered.

So … that’s where we are on the eve of Indicative Votes Day, with Theresa May still resisting abdication and even a notional general election not promising to make anything remotely clearer. Has there ever been a taking back of control to rival this one? If so, leading historians of the ERG are invited to get in touch with the relevant parallels.

Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist


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