Picture:AFP/Nur Photo/Wlktor Szymanowicz
Picture:AFP/Nur Photo/Wlktor Szymanowicz

Ten days to go before Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, and Theresa May is behaving like a magician who keeps pulling the same dead rabbit out of her tiny hat, to jeers all round. Her last desperate trick is to call an election to save her show, which everyone hates anyway.

That an election will not solve the Brexit dogshow is conveniently ignored. Both Tories and Labour have smothered themselves in ordure in the three years since "Big Dave" Cameron called his unwise referendum, which has done nothing but split the UK down the middle. One poll suggests that if you are over 50, own your house and have money in the bank, you probably voted Leave, thereby helping consign your country and your children to economic irrelevance. Perhaps it’s the first step for the country formerly known as Great Britain towards an International Monetary Fund bailout.

For if one idea keeps cropping up like a bad penny, it’s the notion of "plucky Britain" going it alone in shark-infested waters and emerging victorious. The delusion is an old one for which you might blame Sir Francis Drake, the first Queen Elizabeth, the British East India Company and the steam engines of James Watt and George Stephenson, who all powered the expansion of the British Empire far beyond the shores of Mud Island (let’s not mention the gunpowder, opium, slavery and treachery that helped the Empire on its way).

This idea of Britain "punching above its weight" forgets certain milestones such as George Washington at Yorktown in 1781, a Zulu army at Isandlwana in 1879 and 50,000 lightly armed farmers on horseback tying down 500,000 British soldiers on the veld in 1900. That it was US might plus the sacrifice of 20-million Russians that turned the tide in World War II gives the lie to the fantasy of Britain going it alone.

Britain’s industry is long departed to other shores. What’s left might yet decamp across The Ditch. That would leave the banks which have made The City the world’s financial powerhouse to carry the can. Perhaps that was the plan all along. As Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum writes: "The truth is that Britain has become a place where untransparent money, from unknown sources, is widely accepted with a complacent shrug."

Plus ça change, then. Hoist the drawbridge, Boris, for the people are restless and it may be a long, hard night.