May in the last-chance saloon where support has run dry
Her latest Brexit deal is an attempt at pleasing everyone that succeeds in pleasing no one
For someone who “doesn’t go drinking in parliament’s bars”, it is beyond ironic that Theresa May should now find herself in the last-chance saloon, desperately offering to buy a round for everyone in Westminster.
As London’s resident “Billy no mates”, she has failed to reach a compromise with Labour, cannot persuade the DUP to support her – despite a billion-pound bung – and remains at odds with the Eurosceptic wing of her own party. Note how all of these groups were quickest out of the blocks to condemn her new Brexit deal – which like her original Chequers plan is a victim of its own pragmatism – an attempt at pleasing everyone that succeeds in pleasing no one.
And let’s not even get started on Conservative Leave voters, who are indicating in ever-increasing numbers that they would rather have a pint with Nigel Farage. And not just on Thursday – some Tories don’t seem to want the Brexit Party to end. Instead of saying, “I’m having what she’s having”, Tuesday’s address only succeeded in promoting even more calls for last orders on May’s administration, with the subsequent question and answer session dominated by talk of when she would walk out of the black door of No 10 for good.
It didn’t have to be this way. May could have come out and set her own timetable for her departure last week, but instead she left it to Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs to confirm that we’d have to wait until June to find out when the PM plans to finally pack her bags.
Having insisted that she is putting country before party, many now suspect that the resilient leader, rightly praised as a dutiful public servant, is now putting her own political obituary ahead of both.
For people are now not only asking themselves whether Brexit should be delivered at any price, but whether May should pay the ultimate price for failing to deliver Brexit.
May insists that nine out of 10 Tory MPs support the Withdrawal Agreement, but how many now support her as prime minister? If she drank in parliament’s bars, she’d have the answer in a heartbeat. Many of her Conservative colleagues are beyond compromise and at this stage; who can blame them?
What possible incentive would Leavers on either side of the House of Commons have to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading, if it only opens the door to a two-thirds Remain parliament being able to insist on a second referendum and a customs union? Even the People’s Vote campaign condemned the second referendum plan, and after six weeks of stalemate Jeremy Corbyn can barely find consensus on Brexit within his own party, let alone with the government. Predictably he was also quick to reject what he described as “a repackaging of the same old bad deal”.
Summing up Eurosceptic reaction, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group said: “The prime minister’s latest proposals are worse than before and would leave us bound deeply into the EU. It is time to leave on WTO terms.”
And here’s the other rub for May. Her insistence that “finding common ground in parliament ... is the only way to deliver Brexit”, does not necessarily reflect growing public thinking – which is that no deal is better than a bad deal. Thanks to the Brexit Party, no-deal is well and truly back on the table, despite what the pro-Remain cliff-edgers would have you believe.
May’s cup runneth over and yet no one wants to drink from it. It is the sort of denial regularly seen in the bars of Westminster.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)