Theresa May's Brexit deal was torn apart in the Commons, just as it would be by the general public

Theresa May said that she wants to be able to 'look the British people in the eye and say we delivered', but the way to do that is to ask them, and she never will

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Monday 26 November 2018 22:50 GMT
Theresa May on Political Declaration: UK will leave EU agricultural and fisheries policies

Did previous generations who lived in historic times find history to be so aggressively punctuated with formal statements?

When Genghis Khan conquered China, for example, was he required to make public statements to the effect that he was a) thinking about conquering China, b) going to conquer China, c) in the process of conquering China, and ultimately d) had conquered China?

No one doubts that Theresa May agreeing a deal to formalise the UK’s exit from the European Union is historic, not least given, as Winston Churchill once almost said, the last fortnight has lasted for a thousand years. But it has now been pre-announced, pre-pre-announced, announced and, at the despatch box of the House of Commons on Monday, enjoyed the first of what will be a lengthy string of re-re-announcements.

In the time between, as the saying goes, nothing has changed. This was the third time in a week and a half that the Prime Minister had come to the House of Commons to announce that the deal had been done, and the third time in a week and a half she was told that everybody hates it.

Two weeks from now, she will face the “meaningful vote”, in which MPs will meaningfully tell her what they have told her unrelentingly over the last two weeks – that they will not vote for it.

In between saying the same thing over and over again for the last two weeks, one faintly interesting new sentiment did pass her lips. At the end of all this, she said, she wants to be able to, “Look the British people clearly in the eye and say, “We have delivered on Brexit; we have delivered on what you wanted.”

Trouble is, as she sets off on a rumoured nationwide tour to sell her Brexit deal, the British people do not have a solitary eye to look into. If we take just Monday afternoon as an example.

She looked into the eye of Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong Brexiteer who reluctantly campaigned for remain and will vote down her deal chiefly for political reasons. She looked into the eye of Iain Duncan Smith, who voted Brexit but will vote down her deal because he thinks the EU will use the threat of the backstop to force the UK into concessions, as Emmanuel Macron has already suggested.

She looked into the eye of Labour’s Chris Leslie, as he told her, “She isn’t seriously suggesting that her proposed deal will make the country better off than remaining in the European Union?”

And she didn’t seriously have an answer. Brexit has turned politicians and the public alike into cross dressers trapped in a maze in a hall of mirrors. There may even be a televised debate on her deal, between her and Jeremy Corbyn.
A Remainer pretending to represent Brexiteers, and lifelong Brexiteer pretending to be on the side of Remainers. You don’t have to have read too much Hobbes or Rousseau to know the people do not have a solitary eye for you to look them in.

There is one way, of course, to look the British people in the eye. And that’s not to say, ‘We have delivered what you wanted?’ but to ask, ‘Have we delivered what you wanted?’ A second referendum, in other words. The scenes in the House of Commons on Monday are as vivid a demonstration as any as to why it’s something Theresa May consistently says she will never, ever do.

Far easier to only have to look yourself in the eye, and carry on the self-deception.

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