Among the many horrors of the past week, one thing has become clear. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is now run by a sociopath.
This is not a word I use lightly. Like many people watching the carnival parade of grotesques lining up to take over from David Cameron three years ago, I was desperate for Theresa May to win. She seemed calm. She seemed grown up. She seemed sensible.
Sure, she wasn’t charismatic. If she had a searing intellect, she was hiding it pretty well. This was not a woman who was going to dazzle world leaders with her nuanced thinking and her charm. This was not a woman who was going to give inspirational speeches, outlining her vision for the country or the world.
This was not Obama, for Christ’s sake, but we were in no position to ask for Obama. Faced with a line-up that included a man whose idea of diversity and inclusion is to talk about “picaninnies” and “watermelon smiles” and a woman who didn’t know that journalists record interviews, Theresa May felt like a gift from on high. Solid. Stalwart. A safe pair of hands. She was not going to miss her slot on the flower-arranging roster at church. She was not going to rock any boats.
Theresa May felt like a gift from on high. Solid. Stalwart. A safe pair of hands.
That now seems like another universe. Yes, the country had been rocked by a referendum. The referendum offered the choice between things as they were – unexciting, relatively stable, relatively functional – and a glorious revolution that would tear up everything in the hope of sunlit meadows in the future. Some people voted for the revolution because they were particularly keen on tearing things up. Other people voted for it because they liked the idea of sunlit meadows. Others voted for it just because they like the word “no”.
When the results came through, half the nation was broken-hearted. Half the nation had got what they wanted and should have been happy, but seemed even angrier than they were before. What we needed, it was clear, was for someone level-headed to take charge. Someone wise. Someone calm.
This week, the leader everyone thought was going to try to shepherd the nation to a point that would honour the result of the referendum, but also try to limit the pain of it, and even try to do it in a way that would at least try to bring people together, actually tried to march the country to the edge of a cliff and force it to leap over.
I suppose the signs were there all along. The speech announcing her “red lines”, which seemed to have been dreamt up with no consultation with anyone except her two thick-as-thieves special advisers. The decision to “trigger” Article 50 with absolutely no plan. The promise that there would be no election, followed by an election. The decision to bribe 10 Ulster Union MPs into supporting her, with £10 billion from a magic money tree we had been told for years did not exist. The promise on a “meaningful vote” by mid December, which was delayed and delayed and delayed until 15th January, and then defeated by the biggest margin in history.
What’s now clear to everyone is that our Prime Minister has not even spent two minutes of her life thinking about a Plan B
Any other Prime Minister might have thought it was time for Plan B, but what’s now clear to everyone is that our Prime Minister has not even spent two minutes of her life thinking about a Plan B. When Plan A failed, she added more gristle to the stew and served it up again. Once again, on 12th March, it was defeated, this time by 149 votes.
The Prime Minister’s plan was to serve it up for a third time, 10 days before we were due to leave the EU. For three years, she had been telling us that we would leave the EU on 29th March, but she waited until the week before, to try to force her deal through.
Even if it had passed, which everyone knew it wouldn’t, there wasn’t enough time to get the legislation passed. So our Prime Minister was still saying something she knew wasn’t true.
On Monday, we heard that she wouldn’t hold a vote this week if she couldn’t get enough support for it. Other “sources close to Downing Street” say that she still planned to hold the vote, knowing that it wouldn’t pass again, and then tell the EU, at their meeting on Thursday, that she would get it through next time. In other words, she would say: yes, I know we’ve eaten up two and a half years of your time, but if you could just bear with me for a little bit longer, I’ll keep telling my MPs that reheated gristle stew is the only stew in town until they finally stop gagging and eat it.
I’ll keep telling my MPs that reheated gristle stew is the only stew in town until they finally stop gagging and eat it
As it happened, she didn’t get the option, because the Speaker of the House of Commons found a law that said, in effect, that Governments weren’t allowed to keep re-heating gristle stew and serving it up to Parliament as many times as they wanted. There were, in fact, not meant to re-heat it more than once. And so she couldn’t have her vote before she went to the EU.
Theresa May was always going to have to ask for some kind of extension to the Article 50 deadline, because she had eaten her own homework, without even putting it anywhere near the dog. She made it clear she would ask for a long one, in the hope she could then make it a short one by forcing her gristle stew through. And then, on Wednesday, she flipped. She announced that she would seek an extension only until 30th June. She would, in other words, make sure that if her deal didn’t pass, we would fall off that cliff.
For two and a half years, it has been the trillion dollar question. Was our Prime Minister serious about “no deal”? Sure, we knew that the fanatical hardliners didn’t give a flying fig about the hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs and their livelihoods, the businesses that would go bust, the cancer patients who would on longer get their treatment.
But Theresa May? Sensible, cautious, church-going Theresa May? Surely she wouldn’t actually unleash such a massive act of self-harm upon the nation, an act of self-harm that many have compared to a war?
Yes, we knew she was obsessively devoted to the Conservative party. She doesn’t seem to have any friends, and the Conservative party appears to be her life. But surely this woman, who goes on and on about duty, knew that her duty, when the chips were down, was to her country, not to the frothing-mouthed members of the ERG?
Surely this woman knew that, when the chips were down, her duty was to her country, not to the frothing-mouthed members of the ERG?
This week, we had our answer. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is ready to wreck the lives of millions of its citizens to appease the ERG.
On Wednesday night, in Downing Street, she gave the strangest speech I have ever heard in my life. She told the people of the United Kingdom that she was “on their side”. She said the reason we were in this mess was because MPs were refusing to make a decision. Yes, the woman who has literally “run down the clock” on the most serious decision the country has faced for 80 years laid the blame for it all on MPs.
Since then, some of them have not been able to go back to their homes because people have told them that if they do, they will die.
On Thursday, leaders of EU members spent 90 minutes grilling Theresa May. They asked her what she would do if her deal didn’t pass. She didn’t answer. They asked her what her Plan B was. She didn’t answer. For an hour and a half, they asked her questions and she just kept repeating that she wanted her deal to pass.
When she left the room, two things were clear. The first was that Theresa May was not a fit person to lead a country. The second was that she had decided to opt for “no deal” and blame the EU.
By the end of six hours, they had cooked up a plan for a lifeline. They had decided to treat the UK as a “patient”. This, they could see, was a country that was very sick, with a leader who was determined to make it even sicker. However they had voted in a referendum, they thought, or at least some of them thought, 66 million people didn’t deserve that.
This, they could see, was a country that was very sick, with a leader determined to make it even sicker
Thanks to the EU’s kindness, we have been given a reprieve. It is likely that there will be “indicative votes” in Parliament this week, to work out if there’s a majority for anything at all. It’s likely that May will try to have at least one more go with her deal. It isn’t clear whether May will listen to Parliament. It isn’t clear if Parliament will find a way to stop us from crashing out of the EU on 12th April. Many EU leaders now think this is the most likely scenario, and the money flying out of the UK would suggest their fears may well come true.
Meanwhile, pretty much everyone is begging Theresa May to resign, but she says she won’t. She now seems to think that she was put on this planet to “deliver Brexit” and to please the ERG.
She has gone rogue. She has gone mad. She doesn’t care about her country, or the people in it.
On Wednesday, in a meeting at Downing Street, leaders of other parties reminded our Prime Minister about the economic damage that would be inflicted on millions of people if the UK left the EU without a deal. “The people,” she said, coolly, chillingly, “voted for pain.