02/04/2017 14:56 BST | Updated 31/03/2018 06:12 BST

Hypocrites, Liars And Cowards - Our Shrunken Politicians

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last June, immediately after the Brexit referendum, I wrote: 'My overwhelming emotion is one of sadness.'

But now, the sadness has turned to deep anger -- at the hypocrisy, dishonesty and sheer political cowardice that has characterised the response to the referendum result of both the UK's major political parties.

I need to be clear: I am not directing my anger at the 17.4 million voters who voted to leave the EU. Each one of them had their own reasons -- some good, some bad -- and each vote was as valid as every other vote. I am a democrat and I believe in democracy. Parliamentary democracy.

No. I am angry at the politicians who are knowingly and deliberately taking the country along a course that they themselves believe to be profoundly mistaken. What is that if it is not hypocrisy, dishonesty and cowardice?

It was Theresa May's breathtakingly disingenuous letter to the EU, triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, that sparked my fury. Because what it revealed, far more starkly than she can possibly have imagined, is the appalling flimsiness of the pro-Brexit case.

For example: 'Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.'

Excuse me? If we 'want to play our part', why in God's name are we leaving the EU?

'Europe's security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war.' (Translation: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are a danger to us all.) In which case, why on earth does Mrs May threaten to withhold security cooperation unless she gets her way on trade? ('In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.' Threats are never a good idea if you're trying to play nicey-nicey.)

Yes, I understand the tactics. The prime minister doesn't have too many negotiating cards to play, and the UK's expertise and experience in the fields of intelligence and security is highly valued by our EU partners. As The Sun headline put it with that paper's unerring instinct for taste and decency: 'Your money or your lives - trade with us and we'll help fight terror.'

The truth, as we all know, is that Mrs May thinks it would be better for Britain if it stayed in the EU. So do her chancellor, Philip Hammond, and her home secretary, Amber Rudd. So does every living ex-prime minister, from John Major to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Ah yes, David Cameron. The man who apparently still thinks he was right to promise an in-out referendum, just like Tony Blair, who still thinks he was right to back George W Bush when he decided to invade Iraq. Two colossal misjudgments by two prime ministers unable to admit that they might be fallible.

Theresa May told MPs after she had sent her 'Dear President Tusk' letter to Brussels on Wednesday that leaving the EU 'is this generation's chance to shape a brighter future for our country.'

This generation? Which generation could she be thinking of? Hers (she's 60)? Or my children's (they are in their 30s)? Because it so happens that although the prime minister's -- and my -- generation voted overwhelmingly to leave, my children's generation voted even more overwhelmingly to remain. So much for negotiating a post-Brexit deal on behalf of future generations ...

Mrs May channels her inner Thatcher (with whom she hates to be compared) when she insists that 'there can be no turning back', just as Mrs T used to insist that there was 'no alternative' to her economic policies. There was then, and there is now -- even if Mrs M needs us to believe that reversal is not an option.

Remind me, who was it who once said: 'If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy'? Ah yes, of course, her Brexiteer-in-chief, David Davis.

So what would a braver, more principled and more honest political leader have done? They would have said: 'We acknowledge and recognise the result of the referendum, even though we believe it to have been profoundly mistaken. We will attempt to negotiate a new relationship with the EU, and we will then ask British voters whether they wish to accept or reject the terms we have been offered.'

Sometimes, it is useful to look at ourselves as others see us. I was particularly struck by the Los Angeles Times headline: 'With Brexit, Britain pulls the trigger -- on itself.' The French newspaper Liberation went for: 'Vous nous manquez déjà - ou pas.' ('We miss you already -- or not.') The German Die Welt preferred just one word, in English: 'Farewell.'

Mrs May is trying desperately to convince the EU27 that failure to negotiate an equitable Brexit deal would hurt them as much as it would hurt the UK. I doubt that she'll get very far; as Stephen Bush of the New Statesman pointed out, cutting off your nose to spite your face hurts like hell and you're never the same afterwards. 'But while you will see people without noses living successful lives, to date, no nose has managed to carry on without a person. The bad news is that Britain is the nose in this analogy.'

What makes me even angrier than the prospect of the gratuitously self-inflicted pain we are about to suffer is the way in which the Brexit disaster will crowd out any consideration of all the other major crises on which the government should be focusing.

Critical cash shortages in the NHS, schools, social care, the police and prisons? Sorry, you'll have to ask someone else.

President Trump tearing up climate change legislation? Sorry, no time to respond.

Famine sweeping across parts of Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, threatening the lives of twenty million people? Sorry, we're busy.

Civilian casualties as US-led coalition forces bomb Mosul? Sorry, call back.

North Korea? Turkey? China? Sorry, get someone else to deal with them.

We have become a shrinking nation led by shrunken politicians. We deserve better.