In defence of Theresa May

Let’s get a few things straight. The Government has not lost control of the Brexit process; it never had control. The Prime Minister is not in disarray; Parliament is. The present crisis is not the fault of Theresa May; it is the fault of Members of Parliament. MPs are not noble, disinterested people, trying to serve the national interest; they are mainly a group of vindictive egotists who together are doing everything they can to trash the country’s reputation and to blame it on her. 

To begin at the beginning. After the shock of the referendum result, after David Cameron had walked away from what he had created, after the Brexiteers had finished stabbing each other in the back, Theresa May walked in to pick up the pieces. She had to define what Brexit meant. Nobody else was helping. Or, to be more exact, everyone else was screaming such contradictory definitions – and still are – that someone needed to insist on a single interpretation, and attempt to negotiate it. That is called leadership.

Whatever else, Theresa May has been broadly consistent in her definition of Brexit from that moment to this. There have been a few wobbles along the way, the result of gradually discovering what the EU would and would not accept, but no fundamental change. She has insisted that the referendum result must be delivered. She has insisted that there must be an end to freedom of movement, to give meaning to Brexit. She has insisted that, beyond that, there should be the closest possible trading ties between Britain and the EU.

Theresa May could hardly have been fairer in balancing the demands of the extreme Brexiteers and the non-Brexiteers. She has planted herself on the centre ground of the argument, and there she still stands, defying all-comers. She is not confused. She knows exactly what she wants to achieve, which is the same as it was in the beginning.

She has failed to achieve it, not through any substantial failings of her own, but because she has never had control of the process. Brussels controls one part of it; the House of Commons controls the other. Both need to agree, but they can’t. There is no solution that satisfies Brussels and the House of Commons and the referendum result. That is not her fault, and it is a situation that any Prime Minister would have faced in the circumstances.

The House of Commons has three groups who, acting independently of each other, have managed to produce a triple lock that prevents any resolution of the problem. The European Research Group is mostly composed of deeply unpleasant ideologues who believe – without any justification whatsoever – that they are the sole possessors of the holy grail of Brexit, and who will not tolerate any deviation from the true faith. The Remainer rebels – Conservative, Labour and the new independent group – have never paid more than lip service to leaving the EU. They have been determined to subvert the referendum result from day one, and have dissembled and lied (including to themselves) consistently since. The leaders of the Labour party have refused at all points to act in anything but their own sectional interest. Even when offered a form of Brexit that conforms in all material respects to what they were demanding, they have denounced it.

These three groups all insist that only they can solve the problem, oblivious to the fact that collectively they are the problem. They are encouraged in their delusional self-righteousness by an egomaniac of a Speaker, whose behaviour is blatantly partial and close to being treasonable.

As if this were not enough, all three groups have subjected Theresa May to a sustained barrage of abuse, the like of which I have never witnessed in British politics. Much of it is downright sexist: male MPs make remarks about a female Prime Minister that they would never dare direct at a man. The abuse has been venomous, personal and unrelenting. This, in itself, is a disgrace to the country, as has been the reflex parroting of the same abuse by journalists.

Through it all, Theresa May has smiled. She has calmly made her case, and remade it, and remade it again. It remains the only credible case. And when once – just once, and in measured tones – she had the nerve to criticise MPs, they rounded on her again, the venom redoubled. This is a body of people with no capacity to recognise the truth when they hear it. How I would love to see a wholesale clear-out of the House of Commons at the next election.

If nothing else, this charade has put paid to one fond hope the nation has had about politics. “How nice it would be,” people have said for as long as I can remember, “if instead of doing what their party tells them to do, MPs voted according to their conscience.” This is what happens when MPs vote with what they like to call their conscience, alias their ego. This is why we have a party system.

Blame for the breakdown of that system lies with the Conservative party. The first duty of the MPs of a governing party is to ensure that their government can implement the programme on which they were elected. No one should be surprised when an opposition party chooses to oppose. They should be surprised when a governing party chooses not to govern. For that reason, I very much doubt that I will be able to support the Conservatives at the next election, even if that means helping Jeremy Corbyn into office.

So what is to happen? I don’t think Theresa May should bring her deal back next week in any circumstances. It is said that fewer MPs would support it now than a week earlier. If so, the reason is not her speech last week, but the fact that make-your-mind-up time has been delayed by a fortnight. This bunch of pusillanimous MPs will produce a majority on something only when time has run out.

So let MPs ‘take back control’, in their own risible phrase. Let the world see, again, how terminally divided and incompetent they are. Let Theresa May take 10 days’ holiday while they attempt to do that – she must need a break anyway. And then let her come back and get her deal through Parliament at the last possible minute. If MPs won’t let her do that, let’s just leave anyway.