No wonder Theresa May was smiling, Boris Johnson’s chaotic Brexit means ‘nothing has changed’

May didn’t and wouldn’t lie quite as extravagantly as the gang who succeeded her. She wouldn’t threaten to break laws she didn’t like or drag her majesty into a party political row

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 04 September 2019 10:02 BST
Boris Johnson: 'Parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal we might be able to strike in Brussels'

Is it too soon to make a plea to bring back Theresa May? You remember her, surely. She looks pretty effective by current standards. “Bloody difficult woman”, for sure, publicly awkward, untalented dancer, yes all that, but she’d treat the Commons, the opposition and indeed her own party rather better than this lot.

Even her own terrible twins, special advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, were like docile Labrador puppies compared to the rabid pit bull terrier Dominic Cummings, who the PM now answers to.

May distrusted the old Notting Hill set Cameron, Gove, Osborne, plus Johnson because of their larkish student politics approach. She was not into politics as a game, an extension of the Oxford Union. She would not languish about, bored, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, disrespecting the House.

Above all May didn’t and wouldn’t lie quite as extravagantly as the gang who succeeded her. She wouldn’t threaten to break laws she didn’t like or drag her majesty into a party political row.

The opposition parties could assume May would keep her word: there was personal trust and integrity. She might have voted with Boris Johnson now, but she would have surely have derived some ironic satisfaction at the chaos all around him.

As she used to say, then, “Nothing Has Changed”. The great dynamic change promised by Johnson has not materialised. The Tory party remains split, possibly more so than ever. The Commons still wants to block no deal, yet still cannot plan a way forward. The EU is still waiting for the answer to the Irish backstop conundrum, and is as unpersuaded as ever about the UK’s “alternative arrangements”. The country is still bitterly frustrated.

Nothing has changed, then, with the arrival of Boris Johnson. Except perhaps the opportunity to test out the theory that the only reason that May and Brexit failed was because she was “always a Remainer”, because she lacked the skills to get the elusive deal through Parliament, because she failed to threaten no deal in order to make the EU compromise, and so on.

There was a whiff of male chauvinism around. We see now that was a false prospectus. Indeed it rather seems that Johnson hasn’t even made much effort to get a deal anyway no proposals even tabled at the EU.

We've long seen that Brexit isn’t working because of the sheer weight of its internal contradictions.

Johnson thought we could have our cake and eat it, as he amusingly quipped. The Tories were enraptured by his positive energy, fancying it would free them from their purgatory. More sensible, May warned everyone that the Boris way would fail, but was sacked for her trouble. Johnson promised to save Brexit. He has failed too.

Theresa May hasn’t yet stood up from her new Commons perch next to Ken Clarke to declare “I told you so”, but she really ought to. Her occasional smiles yesterday told a story of their own.

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May’s was and is the only signed off UK-EU deal. Now Labour figures such as Stephen Kinnock want to revive it, given the ghastly alternatives. That will not work. Nothing has changed, too, in the sense that parliament won't vote for it, and cannot spring us from this trap and resolve Brexit.

As of today, we can’t have an election, we can’t leave under no deal, parliament can’t agree on a new deal, the EU seems reluctant to indulge in magical thinking … only the people themselves can break the deadlock with a fresh referendum. It is the eternal logic, and changing the team at No 10 hasn’t changed that either.

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