When humanity next gets round to revising the fundamental laws of the universe, Theresa May will surely earn a special mention. Her deal breaks down in flames. Her party, riven both by Brexit and her unique approach to implementing it, collapses around her ears. Her voice, worn out with meaningless catchphrases and outright untruths, gives out on her. Parliament refuses to back her deal. Refuses again. And still she clings on to power.
At this point, even the Terminator’s famed powers of resilience have nothing on the Prime Minister’s seeming indestructibility. Long after the nuclear fires of the next war wipe the world clean of humanity, May will still be stood behind a lectern determinedly informing the cockroaches that Brexit means Brexit. However insurmountable the obstacles, however staunch the opposition, however blatantly, laughably unworkable her strategy becomes, she continues undaunted by past failure or present reality.
Today, with preparations for Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s undercooked no-deal strategy – slowly winding into place some nine days before the ultimate deadline, May stood in front of the nation to explain how the Brexit process has ended up so badly off track.
You might think given everything that has come to this point that she would show some humility. That she would accept that her strategy of triggering Article 50 without a plan in place was premature. That negotiating in secret so as not to ‘show her hand’ – keeping both opposition parties and Parliament excluded from the process – had been an unwise move. That the deal she reached – keyed to her preferences and those of her immediate confidantes – could not be passed, and that a more inclusive process might have made this obvious earlier. That her strategy of driving the country up to the cliff-edge in an attempt to force MPs to acquiesce to her deal was undemocratic, and a mistake. That, in short, she bears some personal responsibility for the mess we finds ourselves in.
You would be sorely mistaken. The Prime Minister looked into the cameras and told the country – a country where in the frenzy of the 2016 vote an MP was murdered by a man who gave his name as “death to traitors” and “freedom to Britain” – that any hold-ups in the Brexit process are down to obstructive MPs.
MPs who were “infighting”, playing “political games”, revelling in “arcane procedural rows”. Refusing a deal that “delivers on the result of the referendum”. Who perhaps “do not want to leave at all, causing potentially irreparable damage to public trust”. Who can’t decide what they want. MPs, reading between the lines, who are letting down the public who just want this “over and done with”, while Theresa May – who has tried her very best, and who unlike them is “on your side” – can only stand by helpless as they reject her brilliant deal.
And if MPs choose to extend Article 50, and cause European elections to be held – well. Theresa May, the person who is supposedly in charge of this process, cannot be held responsible for what follows. “How bitter and divisive”, she mused, “would that election campaign be at a time when the country desperately needs bringing back together?”. The shadow of Thomas Mair looms large behind those words. To use them in an attempt to bully parliament into doing her bidding is beyond shameful; strongman rhetoric from a weak leader.
It takes some nerve to give a speech like that while standing in the middle of the greatest British policy failing since the Suez crisis. It takes even more to do so amid a crisis which is largely of her own making. And a simple lack of tactical foresight, as well: May will need the same MPs she is excoriating today to back her deal tomorrow. Does she genuinely think that this was the way to win them over?
Her tactic, such as it is, appears to be to drive the country up to the very brink of the no-deal cliff and dare Parliament to blink. The problem is that her pitch – that the choice is between her deal and no-deal – is not entirely true. Parliament can still choose to revoke Article 50, although there may not be enough time or political will to do so. But the simple fact that the option could be perceived to be on the table may mean that Remain-minded MPs refuse to back down, while the hard-leavers in the ERG continue to hold their ground as their favoured outcome comes ever closer.
In other words, there is absolutely no guarantee that her strategy – which has so far failed in every particular – will come good at the last. The only thing that we can be remotely certain about is that if we do go over the cliff, Theresa May will take no responsibility whatsoever.
Header image courtesy of James Loesch, used under a creative commons license.