Friday, 18 January 2019

In the name of God, go!


She. Has. Failed. She. Must. Go.

How many ways are there to state the bleedin’ obvious? Theresa May – obstinate, blinkered, delusional – is now the biggest single obstacle in the way of somehow finding a path through the wretched Brexit imbroglio.

Like flat-earthers who insist that only they know the truth – that our saucer-shaped planet rests on the back of four elephants who, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle – she still insists that she can satisfy the demands of her party’s pro-Brexit ultras, and the House of Commons, and the 27 members of the EU.

It. Can’t. Be. Done. She knows it can’t be done. Her colleagues know it can’t be done. Yet every night, before she turns off her bedside light, she turns to husband Philip and says: ‘You know what? Nothing has changed. Not really.’

In 2017, she lost her party’s parliamentary majority. Never mind, nothing had changed. Last month, her government became the first in British history to be found in contempt of parliament. A trifle; nothing had changed. Not really.

On Tuesday, that same government was defeated on the biggest issue facing the country since, oh, since forever, by the biggest margin ever. Ah well, these things happen. Nothing had changed.

This is not admirable stoicism. It is not devotion to duty. It is sheer, gold-plated pig-headedness. As Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson put it in a lethally damaging speech at the end of Wednesday’s no confidence debate – lethal because he adopted a tone of pity rather than anger: ‘No one doubts her determination, which is generally an admirable quality. But misapplied, it can be toxic. And the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary skills, the empathy, the ability, and most crucially the policy to lead this country any longer.’ (You can watch the speech here.)

Matthew Parris (a former Conservative MP, by the way) was equally scathing in The Times: ‘Theresa May isn’t any good, she doesn’t have a fiendish, secret strategy, she’s careless with the truth and will say anything to get her through another week. She doesn’t know what to do.’

Careless with the truth? She’s in good company. Her pro-Brexit colleagues display a level of ignorance – or dishonesty – that make Donald Trump look like George ‘I cannot tell a lie’ Washington.

Chris Grayling, transport secretary, leading candidate for the title of Most Inept Cabinet Minister ever, in all of human history: ‘Keeping the customs union effectively means staying in the single market.’ It doesn’t.

Esther McVey, former work and pensions secretary: ‘We want to make sure that there is a managed process so that if there is no deal, we would have, as we’ve got now, an implementation period.’ Er, no deal means no implementation period. The clue is in the words ‘no’ and ‘deal’.

Dominic Raab, former Brexit secretary: ‘I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this … if you look at the UK and look how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.’ Apparently, he studied law at Oxford – perhaps GCSE geography would have been of more use.

In the New York Times, the Indian-born writer Pankaj Mishra draws a straight line from what he calls the ‘malign incompetence’ of the British ruling class who were responsible for the disaster that was Indian partition to today’s Brexit fiasco.

‘Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years … Such a pattern of egotistic and destructive behaviour by the British elite flabbergasts many people today. But it was already manifest seven decades ago during Britain’s rash exit from India.’

Mrs May simply cannot be allowed to carry on kicking the can down the road like a grubby schoolboy with grazed knees and not a care in the world. It is time for her Cabinet colleagues to stop imitating the lion from the Wizard of Oz: ‘You’re right, I am a coward. I haven’t any courage at all.’

They must tell her to stop talking about her duty and try doing her duty instead. She must make way for someone with more ability, more skill and more honesty. Oh yes, and more courage.

The courage to choose. To choose between the six glorious, multi-hued varieties of Tory rebels who united to defeat her on Tuesday night. According to an invaluable analysis by The Times, the 118 Conservatives who voted against her on Tuesday can be divided up as follows: 47 want her to go back to Brussels to get a better deal (presumably one that provides a free pink unicorn for every British voter); 34 want her to get rid of the incomprehensible Irish backstop (presumably because even though they don’t really understand what it is, they know they don’t like it); 18 are in favour of leaving the EU with no deal at all; eight want a second referendum; two want a so-called Norway-type deal; and nine haven’t said what they want.

These are the people who she says she thinks ‘should work constructively together.’ Really? What planet is she on? These are people who wouldn’t be able to agree on what pizza to get delivered for the next meeting of the Plotters’ Cabal.

And now, as if the idea has only just occurred to her, she is consulting her fellow MPs. Another kick of the can down the road: in the words of Nicola Sturgeon: ‘The prime minister’s offer of talks is a promise to listen, but only if we all agree with her.’ It has the ring of truth, doesn’t it?

In her Downing Street statement (‘Nothing has changed’) on Wednesday night, Theresa May said: ‘Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering Brexit.’ Rest your eyes on that first word, ‘Overwhelmingly’, and then remind yourself of the referendum result and of the latest YouGov opinion poll that suggests a possible 12-point lead for Remain if another referendum were to be held now.

I can’t help wondering if the strain of the past two years has finally got to her. But unlike Tom Watson, I feel no pity.

(And if you’re wondering why I haven’t even mentioned Jeremy Corbyn, I can assure you it wasn’t an oversight. According to YouGov, 56% of British voters think he was wrong to refuse Theresa May’s invitation to her Brexit talks. Another triumph …)