IT is a measure of the degree to which political discourse has become intemperate and unpleasant that the almost only point on which everyone seems to be able to agree is that it has become intemperate and unpleasant.

In part, this is a consequence of the polarisation that has been growing since the referendum on leaving the EU. As with the independence referendum before it, the presentation of a stark, binary choice inevitably meant that opinion divided; but it also led to opinions becoming more divisive.

Many of those who argued for remaining in the EU, but said they would accept the popular verdict, are now straightforwardly campaigning to revoke Article 50 with no further reference to the electorate. On the other side, those who advocated a future relationship with the EU along the lines of countries like Norway and Switzerland are in many cases now maintaining that only a “no deal” outcome counts as “real” Brexit.

The fact that people seldom alter position, and indeed often double down on their stance, when challenged or even shown evidence that contradicts their arguments is a well-established aspect of basic psychology. But it is precisely that tendency which well-conducted political discourse should challenge, and it is impossible to do so while those involved characterise those who happen to differ not as opponents but as enemies.

There is a world of difference between those two descriptions: it ought to be possible to acknowledge differences of opinion, no matter how profound, and no matter how damaging or dangerous one thinks the opposing view is, without the assumption that it has some malign motivation. And the imputation that those on the other side of the debate on leaving the EU, or for that matter the one on leaving the UK, are somehow treacherous is not only unhelpful, but offensive.

Of course, offence is part and parcel of political cut and thrust and cannot be entirely avoided. Those who regard the ill-tempered remarks of today’s politicians as an unusual low might look back at the historical abuse thrown around, from Churchill’s description of Ramsay MacDonald as “the Boneless Wonder” to Nye Bevan’s dismissal of Tories as “lower than vermin”.

Against those benchmarks, there is nothing particularly excessive about the Prime Minister’s bid to make his point by describing the Benn Act (instructing him to seek an extension to the UK’s departure date from the EU) as “the surrender act”.

It is, however, not only preposterous but offensive for him to declare that the best way to honour the memory of the murdered MP Jo Cox would be to implement a policy against which she campaigned.

However, synthetic outrage confected on the benches of the House of Commons and – above all – on social media platforms is now a routine response to fairly innocuous political statements. In its own way, such grievance-mongering, and the constant search for something to be offended by, is every bit as corrosive as ill-judged invective, or hyperbolic claims.

There is little prospect that either side of the current debate on Brexit is going to be entirely satisfied, and it is a certainty that one or the other (and quite possibly both) will be upset with the outcome, if and when it ever comes. That is inevitable with such a divisive issue. But it is no reason for making damaging and dangerous claims about the bad faith of one’s political opponents, or for arguing, as some on both sides disgracefully have, that violent disorder would be understandable, or even justified, if they do not get their own way.