Fuelled by rhetoric and promises, the Brexit starship and its crew, half of them enthusiastic, half less so, left our planet two years ago to boldly go where no ship of state has gone before, to a distant galaxy, where a wondrous new planet had been identified whose existence and suitability for colonisation had been much theorised but little demonstrated.

First published in June 2018. | Updated in September 2019.

Unfortunately, shortly after the ship’s triumphant blast-off, everything began to go wrong. The ship experienced a bewildering series of mechanical mishaps until, finally, just before Christmas, the engine ceased to function. Now, the ship drifts powerless through space. The various factions among the crew have speculated endlessly about the cause of the engine failure. The mechanics had always warned that the mission was fatally flawed. But no one listened to them. Who needs experts when belief is your fuel? Others mutter darkly that the ship had been sabotaged by some of the less enthusiastic crew members. A few even whisper that the captain always had her doubts and perhaps she simply switched the engine off.

As the ship is dragged along by the galactic currents, the ocular clarity of deep space enables the astronomers to look much more closely at their destination, a planet supposedly situated at the epicentre of galactic trade and filled with all manner of wonders — herds of glossy-maned unicorns, oceans of prosecco and mountains of cake with peaks of soft, white icing. Sadly, the astronomers’ findings are very bad news. The promised planet does not in fact exist. A tiny minority of astronomers argue that the telescope’s lens must be faulty but the rest are in complete agreement. There are no unicorns.

The captain and her officers refuse to recognise the data. They accuse the astronomers of being not much better than astrologers. After all, some of them had forecast that the ship wouldn’t even make it into orbit. They exhort the crew to cheer up, be more positive, have more ambition, focus on the prize. It’s all a matter of perspective, they argue. The ship isn’t drifting. It’s making slow but steady progress. But despite all this convincing, many start to question their beliefs. The ship’s corridors used to echo with the sound of crew members shouting the mission’s famous mottos — ‘Brexit Est Brexit’ and ‘Non Planeta Melius Quam Malus Planeta.’ (“No Planet is Better than a Bad Planet”) But not any more. It’s all gone very quiet.

And then there’s even worse news. Without the captain or her officers seeming to notice, the ship tumbles into a new solar system and comes to a halt at the Lagrangian point between two new planets where the gravitational pull of each is exactly equal. Gravity renders the ship perfectly immobile. Further progress is impossible. Even drift is no longer an option.

As work continues to fix the engine, the astronomers examine the new planets. The first seems green and pleasant. It’s a place where the crew could thrive, perhaps even prosper. But there’s a problem. It’s remarkably like the planet they had left behind. “What was the point of leaving,” half the officers moan, “if we end up where we started?” The astronomers train their telescope on the second planet. There’s more bad news. It’s a barren, rocky place, a far cry from the sunlit uplands the crew had been promised. It could be colonised but the crew would struggle to eke out an existence comparable to their previous lives.

The captain tries to keep this news secret but the astronomers’ analysis leaks out. Most of the crew greet the news with varying degrees of indifference and disbelief. Many of them had already lost faith in the captain’s navigational ability. They don’t mind anymore where the ship goes as long as it goes somewhere.

During this period of stasis, the ship’s factions vie for supremacy. Intrigues abound and many, many cunning plans are devised. Some of the technicians theorise that once the engine is fixed the ship might be able to find a third planet that would provide some rational compromise between aspiration and reality. Others argue that the crew should be allowed to vote on whether to go back home. But the officers dedicated to the ship’s mission will not accept any deviation from the original course. The will of the crew must not be defied. The planet will be found, whatever the cost.

Meanwhile, time is running out. The ship will run out of oxygen in less than a year. A decision needs to be made about which way to go. The reality is stark. The original mission is no longer viable. There is no compromise planet. Home is light years away. Only one choice remains. It’s this planet, soft and familiar, or that planet, hard and barren. A hard lesson has been learnt. You can’t negotiate with gravity.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com on 17 June 2018. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Dreamstime/Philcold - Lost in space.)