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Where is Britain’s Brexit mission?

The PM acknowledged Brexit was in part a protest by millions over inequalities. Credit: PA

What and where is the UK’s mission outside the European Union?

Arguably for this country Brexit is almost as significant for the UK as the reunification of West and East Germany in 1990.

History could one day prove to us it is more significant.

The point is that German reunification was characterised by a huge and expensive national effort to raise the living standards and productivity of the former Communist east - a common purpose to build a less unequal Germany that involved considerable sacrifice by the richer West.

And if Brexit was in part a protest by millions of people on low incomes about the long-term stagnation of their living standards and the collapse of their hopes for a more prosperous future - which the Prime Minister acknowledged when she took office on 13 July 2016 - the appropriate response would surely be a collective effort to correct the outrageous inequalities between old and young, North and South, property owners and renters, educated and uneducated.

But Brexit has not united us on a long march to a fairer richer Britain.

Inequalities in Britain would need to be fixed in our out of the EU. Credit: PA

It has achieved the opposite: debate rages about the kind of Brexit that would be best for Britain and for which the people voted; and a divided government is so consumed by its own internal disagreements about how we should leave the EU and by the unprecedented logistical challenges of extricating us without mishap or unnecessary cost, that the priority of healing the country has been and is crowded out.

Perhaps it could not be otherwise.

Almost all Germans were and are comfortable being both German and EU citizens.

As a nation we remain split on these most basic ideas of identity.

That said, what needs to be fixed in Britain - a chronic shortage of affordable housing, lamentably poor productivity growth, a creaking health service, scandalously inadequate care for the infirm elderly - would need fixing in or out of the EU.

The central argument of my recently published book, WTF, is that the Brexit vote reflected the unfairness of how we run this place, but that leaving the EU will not in and of itself rectify that unfairness.

And if there is a tragedy associated with Brexit, it is that within government and Whitehall, the project of turning that vote into constitutional and economic reality - the greatest logistical challenge faced by the machinery of government since 1945 - crowds out so much else that in "peace time" would be an imperative.

'Boris was itching to do a speech and can't ultimately be stopped,' a source said. Credit: PA

Brexit is a black hole that sucks in the emotional, intellectual and financial resources of government and civil service.

But fear not. Presumably the process of healing can begin on Wednesday, when the Foreign Secretary writes his Valentine’s Day love letter to the nation, as the first instalment of a sextet of speeches by Davis, Fox, Lidington and May (twice), billed by Downing Street as the Road to Brexit.

Will these give us the settled position on our future trading, migration and security relationships with the EU, that will at last turn negotiations with the EU into a dry technical affair?

Will they unite a cabinet and parliamentary Tory party so ideologically split on whether taking back control of lawmaking trumps cheaper access to the EU market as to rival Cold War tensions between East and West Germany?

Here is a clue why it might be naive to assume peace in the Cabinet is about to break out.

I asked a senior member of the government why none of the ministers arguing most passionately for deeper stronger links with the EU - notably the Chancellor, Home Secretary and Business Secretary - had been included in the Road-to-Brexit public debate, even though each would presumably have a legitimate view, not least because they have been trusted to occupy these great offices of state.

"I think Downing Street is just trying to frame the fact that Boris has been itching to make a speech and can’t eventually be stopped," I was told.

In other words, the PM seems still fixated on holding her party together, rather than on what may be in the national interest.

And if it is all about reconciling the irreconcilable in the Tory Party, what is most likely to emerge is not some sharply delineated plan for independent Britain redivivus, but a gloop that will see Merkel, Macron and our EU interlocutors still asking May: "What do you actually want?"