I never promised you a rose garden. For those a little bit depressed by last week’s newsletter, please remember that I never promised to cheer you up. But now I am, in fact, remembering a rose garden. I’m remembering two youngish men, walking together in a rose garden, in almost matching suits. They could have been brothers. They could have been lovers. They looked so happy, and so full of hope
That, of course, was before one of them went off to earn £7m a year to do PR for a social media platform which appears to have wrecked democracy, and before the other one slipped on a banana skin and broke his country.
Those were the days when you could almost think the Tory party was nice. Well, not nice, exactly, but affable, relatively competent, relatively polite.
They were mostly a bunch of posh boys, of course. Youngish men who had popped out of the womb thinking they quite fancied being Prime Minister, or perhaps Foreign Secretary, and were packed off to public school and Oxbridge to make sure they did.
Things bumbled along. There was a big debt, because there had been a global financial crisis and perhaps also because a Labour party which had declared an end to “boom and bust” had been a bit too quick to splash the cash. There were cuts in public spending. It wasn’t an easy time to be poor. But before he broke his country, the man running it actually managed to seem quite decent. The United Kingdom had a Prime Minister who actually managed to seem quite decent and quite sane.
That feels like a very, very, very long time ago.
On Sunday, it was clear that the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the daughter of a clergyman, who goes to church every Sunday, is a pathological liar.
On Sunday, it was clear that the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a patholigical liar.
She had promised to bring her “meaningful vote” to the House of Commons this week. Yes, the “meaningful vote” on the deal that was first agreed with the EU in November, and which she said she would have a vote on before Christmas, and then didn’t. She finally held that vote on 15th January, and it was rejected by 432 to 202 votes. On 29th January, she held that vote again, but this time with an amendment, about “alternative arrangements”, that smashed the central plank of it.
Since then, she has been pretending to negotiate with Brussels, before bringing back her deal to the House of Commons for the “meaningful vote” she had promised this week. And then yesterday, so casually that you’d have thought lying was actually one of the Ten Commandments, she broke her promise.
The “meaningful vote”, she announced, would now take place by 12th March. Yup, that’s two and a half weeks before we are due to leave.
Last week, I had a row with someone very close to me about Theresa May. He thought, and still thinks, that she’s a nice woman who’s just trying to do her best. She is, he said, just doing her duty to “deliver” the results of the referendum. It isn’t her fault that it’s all such a mess. Give her a break.
No. No. No. If I ever thought Theresa May was a nice woman just trying to do her duty, I sure as hell don’t now.
It isn’t “nice” to say you’ll do something, again and again and again, and then not do it. I wasn’t brought up by a vicar, but I was brought up to believe that it isn’t a great idea to lie. It isn’t “nice” to put people, and businesses, and families, through agonising uncertainty, and give them a date when things will be clearer and then go: whoops! only joking! I’ve changed my mind! It isn’t “nice” not just because it isn’t polite or kind, but because in that time businesses are wrecked and jobs are lost.
It has been a strangely upsetting experience to realise that the vicar’s daughter with kitten heels not only doesn’t have a moral compass, she appears to have a vacuum for a soul.
This is why Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston left the Conservative party last week. It wasn’t just that they disagreed with the Prime Minister’s direction over Brexit. It wasn’t even that they think Brexit will be a desperate act of self-harm for our country – which, of course, it will. It was because they had seen her surrender to the “nasty party” at its nastiest. They had seen her surrender to the hardliners and the zealots. Theresa May now is a hardliner and a zealot. She won’t listen to reasonable people, in any party, and she won’t listen to the EU. Theresa May now is the nasty party. We are the nasty country.
Theresa May is the nasty party. We are the nasty country.
God only knows what will happen now. The Labour party has announced that they are “moving towards” the idea of a second referendum, but only because they are trying to stop a bigger split than the one that happened last week. This week, they will table a motion for a “Labour Brexit”. And yesterday, under pressure from ministers who were due to support an amendment forcing Theresa May to extend Article 50 if she doesn’t pass her deal, she announced that, on 13th March, Parliament will be allowed to vote for “a short extension”, but not beyond June.
If that happens, it means that we probably won’t leave the EU without a deal on 29th March. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t leave the EU without a deal. All options are, in the language of the Labour party, “on the table”. Nothing is ruled out, until some kind of deal is agreed by the EU and Parliament. And we don’t seem to be anywhere near that yet.
Let’s be clear. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t want a second referendum. He wants people to think he wants a referendum, so he can keep his party together, and his dreams of power. If some of his MPs are happy to vote for May’s deal in return for her bribes, he’s going to wink and nod it through. He could, of course, whip his MPs to support a second referendum, but I’m pretty damn sure he won’t.
Theresa May could seek cross-party consensus. There would probably be support in Parliament for a “soft” Brexit, involving membership of a customs union. This would, of course, be the form of Brexit that would cause the least economic harm. But she won’t. She won’t, because she is putting her party, and the more extreme end of it, before her country. Her Government’s own papers show that “no deal” would cause a 9% hit to the economy, but she still seems to think that this would be better than any kind of compromise.
In the next few weeks, anything could happen. At this point, my guess is that on 12th March, or whenever the hell our Prime Minister deigns to bring her deal back to the House of Commons, the ERG will blink, at the threat of a long delay, or even no Brexit at all. And May’s deal, with the help of bribes to Labour MPs, will scrape through.
Let’s remember, it’s not a deal. It’s a divorce agreement. It says nothing whatsoever about our future trading relationship with Europe. May won’t last as PM. Whoever takes over, when the Tories win the next election, which they will, will be a true believer in a true, hard, punishing Brexit that minimises the relationship with Europe in order to set us “free”.
But we haven’t even started on that yet. We have two and a half years of more uncertainty first. Or four months of uncertainty that could still lead to “no deal”. When I said I never promised you a rose garden, I meant it.