This was meant to have been a week of national jubilation. It was meant to be the week when church bells were rung, coins struck, stamps issued and bonfires lit to send beacons of freedom from hilltop to hilltop. This was the Friday when Charles Moore’s retainers were meant to be weaving through the moonlit lanes of Sussex, half blind with scrumpy, singing Brexit shanties at the tops of their voices and beating the hedgerows with staves. This was meant to be the week of Brexit. And what has happened instead? In one of the most protoplasmic displays of invertebracy since the Precambrian epoch, this Government has decided not to fulfil the mandate of the people. They have decided not to leave on Friday March 29.
In so doing, they have broken a promise the PM made more than 100 times at the despatch box – and the public is entitled to ask: why?
Is it really true that they are all panicked about the risk of leaving with no deal? Do they really believe Project Fear’s assertions about a murrain on our cattle and a plague of frogs?
Of course not. They have cancelled Brexit this Friday because they want to bully and browbeat Parliament into agreeing the Punic terms on which the EU insists.
We are on the horns of a dilemma. We are between a rock and a hard place; the devil and the deep blue sea. We have on one side the Scylla of the backstop and on the other the Charybdis of infinite parliamentary delay. We have the frying pan labelled Theresa May and the fire consisting of the new triumvirate of Oliver Letwin, Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles.
There are many MPs who fought for Brexit, and who care about it deeply, and who are wrestling with their consciences, and are frankly utterly furious that it has come to this.
So let me briefly set out the choices – in case you have not been following. If we vote for the PM’s lamentable Withdrawal Agreement we are skewered. We run the risk of either weakening the Union, or else being forced to remain effectively part of the single market and customs union. But if we vote it down again there is now I think an appreciable risk that we will not leave at all.
Because on Monday night we saw the extraordinary spectacle of a government collaborating in the hijacking of the ship of state – captain and crew cravenly handing the helm to the pirate Letwin – so that these backbenchers are now charting the way ahead. And though it is absolutely true that the whole problem with the last three years has been a lack of direction ... we are now faced with an even wider range of destinations – second referendum, general election, longer extension, or the Boles/Letwin model – Norway/customs union/plus backstop – none of which correspond remotely to what the people voted for; none of which delivers Brexit.
I wish that we could remember that this is the 5th biggest economy on Earth; the second biggest military power in Nato, and that we had the guts to go one last time to tell them in Brussels that we cannot accept the constitutional humiliation of that backstop. And if they say no, I wish we could – as I have said before – channel the spirit of Moses and Aaron in Exodus and say to the pharaohs of Brussels, “let my people go”.
Because I tell you this – there will be Mars bars, and there will be drinking water. And the planes will fly and the sun will come up in the morning, because even now ... that is the truest and best way to do justice to the courage and self-belief of the 17.4 million who voted to leave.
If politicians adopt that self-confidence, we can turn Brexit into what it should be – a story of hope and opportunity. And if we are to achieve that we must come out properly, and take back control, and get it done now.
This is an abridged version of a speech given by Boris Johnson on Tuesday night at Boris on Brexit Live, hosted by The Telegraph