In any negotiation process, it is entirely normal for both sides to start out by demanding more than they expect to get, so that there is some scope for meeting in the middle after a suitably robust exchange of views. So, in principle at least, we should not be surprised if the UK Government goes into the Brexit negotiations asking for rather more than it actually expects to get, just as the rest of Europe will start out offering less than it expects to concede eventually.
It’s also normal, though, for both sides to present at least an impression that what they are asking for is realistic and reasonable. In this case, the UK Government seems to be starting out by asking for all the advantages of membership of the European Union, but none of the perceived disadvantages or costs – in short, to get a better deal as a non-member than is available to any of the members. And they seem to be genuinely convinced that they’re going to get that.
It could be, of course, that they’re just extremely good actors; that they know deep down that they haven’t a hope of getting what they say they’re going to get; and that their confidence is all a front, or a negotiating ploy. It would be almost comforting to believe that. The problem is that when I watch them and listen to them, I think most of them really do believe that the UK is so special, so important, so unique, and so valuable that the other EU members will see it as being in their interest to give them what they want.
The Brexit negotiations are important; the outcome will affect all of us for many years to come. But our future is being left dependent on the delusions of people who still haven’t come to terms with the idea that Britannia doesn’t actually rule the waves, and hasn’t done so for a very long time.