Is it the country that has gone mad? Or just a majority of members of the Conservative party?
They are the questions that rattle around my brain as the self-styled “sensible” candidate in the Tory leadership campaign, Jeremy Hunt, speaks to me for an ITV interview. He tells me it would serve democracy and save his party from possible extinction for the UK to leave the EU without a deal, even though he agrees with the Bank of England that the rupture from the EU could be almost as big a blow to our prosperity as the 2008 banking crisis. And he agrees with the Chancellor that the shock could increase the national debt by £90bn. And he agrees with the former Tory leader William Hague that it could lead to Northern Ireland and Scotland breaking away from the UK.
I say to him British people surely did not vote for a Brexit that – in his estimation – would impoverish them, shrink the nation and make us more insecure to an almost unprecedented degree.
His response is that he would take evasive action to reduce the costs, for example by holding an emergency budget to slash taxes and burdens for businesses by what he characterises as an unprecedented extent. But in the process, he would cancel his promises to significantly boost defence and education spending, because they would become unaffordable. And he and I don’t get into whether a new age of austerity would be spawned.
To be clear, a no-deal Brexit may not be quite so bad, especially if Hunt’s plans to cancel civil servants’ holidays and set up a new cabinet committee with emergency powers were to yield cushions for the shock.
And Hunt, like Johnson, may – against the revealed evidence – be right that the EU will agree to give them the unilateral right they crave to withdraw from the backstop and associated membership of the customs union, only if we prepare in deadly earnest for the kind of self-harm that would typically be associated with serious mental illness.
Or to put it another way, Hunt or Johnson would only secure a deal from EU leaders for an orderly Brexit that would secure ratification by MPs if we start whacking ourselves in the face with a very large stick, and keep shouting that we are ‘ard enough to endure much worse.
Yes, we may have reached peak bonkers in the history of the democratic west’s longest lived political party.
Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his ITV News blog