A hundred paces in front of the open Grimsby ocean, Theresa May finally ran out of road

The prime minister has already missed her last chance to save her Brexit deal. This was her last chance to blame somebody else

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Friday 08 March 2019 17:13
Theresa May confronted by female reporter over taking one question from a woman on International Women's Day

To get to the warehouse where Theresa May gave her latest last ditch speech on Brexit, you enter the dockside at Grimsby and drive till you run out of road.

This was a prime minister right on the edge. Quite literally. If she’d have taken a hundred paces backwards from her lectern that would have been it. Straight in the drink.

But it’s distinctly possible this particular visual metaphor was not even the most unfortunate of the morning. She was at the UK headquarters of a renewable energy company called Orsted. They are heavily invested in saving mankind from its current existential crisis through the power of wind alone, and on this evidence, yet again, so is Theresa May.

As she spoke – yet again – of Brexit as that political call to action by a people who have been ignored, whose “voices had never been heard”, here those people were, sitting right in front of her, decked from head to toe in orange hi vis. This time they could not go unnoticed.

Actually, yes they could. Not one of them got to say a word. They weren’t permitted to ask a single question. But they still sat there, revelling in the joys of an easy morning, watching a prime minister in the final death throes of her own dignity.

It was around about the eight hundredth time, Theresa May was standing some arbitrary location, warning MPs of the “grave choice” they face when they vote next week, and for the eight hundredth time, they are not going to listen to her.

They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over gain and expect different results. It’s not. Insanity is to think the vapour trails behind aeroplanes are spraying the human population with mind-controlling chemicals. To do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is not insane. It’s just crushingly stupid.

Still, here she was, again, warning Remainer MPs that if they didn’t vote for her deal they risked the consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Here she was again, in her next breath, warning Brexiteers if they didn’t vote for her deal they risked no Brexit at all. The only vaguely new note to add to this ongoing cacaphonic ballet was to tell the EU directly that they too faced difficult choices in the coming days. That if they didn’t give her what they didn’t vote for and don’t want, they too would be blamed for this crisis that is precisely zero per cent of their making.

When she first tried this gambit, months ago, I likened her to the heroin addict turned armed robber from the novel Shantaram. “The first rule of streetfighting,” he says, “is to always get madder than the other guy.” When three Indian prison guards are about to set on him, he warns them that, sure, they’ll win, “But one of you will lose an eye.” And then, for an added rhetorical flourish, he punches himself in the face.

The guards, certain of victory, nevertheless back down. But it’s not working for Theresa May. It’s been obvious for months that the hard Brexiteers, the Remainers and indeed everybody else will take the risk that it’s the other guy, not them, that will lose.

Other moments of not-madness punctuate. Yet again, Brexit was cast as the chance to walk towards a more prosperous future. “That prosperous future belongs to those who voted against Brexit,” she said. In the words of others, it would be a show of bravura. In Theresa May's it’s just a stunning lack of self-awareness. Those who voted against it, did it because they know full well it isn’t going to be prosperous future.

And it would be a prosperous future, for the whole country, “not just for London and the south east”.

“We can build the stronger communities that must be the real legacy of voting to leave,” she said. The idea that membership of the EU has somehow caused the UK to have the most imbalanced major economy in the world is a perverse but popular one now. It is just a straightforward failure of government, with Brexit – the ultimate failure of a government – being the cake on top of the cherry.

Of course, if she really believes Brexit will rebalance the UK economy and make everyone richer, it is truly a wonder that three years ago she campaigned against it and voted against it. Of course, she doesn’t believe a word of it. It’s not even clear if she expects anyone else to.

She wandered off at the end in the direction of the open ocean, looking never more like the opening credits to Reggie Perrin.

ITV News had been deprived a question in the press conference, so their reporter, Libby Weiner, shouted after her. “Just one question from a woman reporter on International Women’s Day. Not very good is it prime minister.”

She turned round, and replied. “All the questions were answered by a woman prime minister.” It got a gentle round of applause, though it did briefly recall the last time a woman held her job.

“There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he doesn’t mind who gets the credit,” so said an inspirational quote of unclear origin that once sat in a frame on Ronald Reagan’s desk in the Oval Office in the days when Margaret Thatcher came to visit.

Theresa May’s days are numbered, quite possibly in single figures. If she is remembered for anything at all, it will be a bold reimagining of that noble sentiment. It really doesn’t matter how bad things get, as long as you make damn sure somebody else takes the blame.

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