With the single worst speech she has ever given, Theresa May shifted all the blame for the failure of Brexit on to herself

At some point it will have to become public knowledge just who it was who thought it was a good idea for the prime minister to go on live television and try to hypnotise the nation

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Wednesday 20 March 2019 23:39 GMT
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'You want us to get on with it and that is what I am determined to do' Theresa May turns up pressure on parliament to force through Brexit deal

Well she made us wait all day and all evening but my word it was worth it. There, at half past eight, in an oak panelled room deep inside 10 Downing Street was the moment the Brexit drama finally morphed into a superhero movie.

Make no mistake about it, Theresa May is now immortal. She is James Bond, she is Batman, she is Gandalf, Magneto and Captain Jack Sparrow all rolled into an incredible one.

When James Bond is legs akimbo on an operating table, a laser set on its certain, deadly path, we are not meant to wonder, “Does he live?” We know he lives. We are coaxed into the tantalising world of not if but how? How does he get out of this?

And so it now is with the prime minister. It became thus when, with absolutely nowhere left to turn, and all hope, this time, finally, definitively lost, Theresa May walked out in front of the television cameras and tried to hypnotise the nation.

I’m not making it up. I’m not exaggerating. That’s exactly what happened. That was the way out. Actual hypnosis.

First, alas, the necessary background that brings us to this point. On Monday, the speaker John Bercow told her that, having been defeated twice, and soundly, she would not be allowed to put her Brexit withdrawal deal before the House of Commons.

So on Tuesday, she wrote to the EU and asked for an extension to the Article 50 process, to stay in the EU for a little bit longer, to find a way out of the mess.

On Wednesday, the EU Council president Donald Tusk appeared in Brussels to breezily announce that she could only have an extension if the House of Commons voted through her withdrawal deal, in a vote she’s already been told she can’t have.

That’s it. The end. No way out. Then the rumours started. “Cancel your dinner,” Number 10 sources said. There were sightings of “the lectern” in Downing Street. A statement was confirmed for 8pm. Was she resigning? Calling a general election? What alternatives were there?

Well it was neither of this. What is was was live, televised, hypnosis. She wandered up to the lectern, stared down the barrel of the TV cameras, and said the following words, which, if you choose to read them aloud in the style of The Demon Headmaster, you do at your own risk.

“You the public have had enough. You are tired of the infighting. You are tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows.

“You are tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, and knife crime.

“You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with.

“We asked you the question already and you gave us your answer. Now you want us to get on with it.”

That’s verbatim. They were the words of a prime minister not so much out of touch with reality as ascending into another realm.

You are tired. You are so very tired. You feel as if you want to go to sleep. My deal is the only deal. Your eyelids feel like lead. I am delivering on the will of the British people.

At some point, at some time in the future, in someone’s memoirs or under the thirty-year-rule, it will become public knowledge just who it was who thought it would be a good idea for the prime minister to do this.

To stand in front of a hopelessly divided nation, and seek to take the fight to a hopelessly divided parliament by telling “the people”, all 70 million of them, many millions of whom have been quite seriously radicalised by Brexit, not just how they feel, but that she, the most widely reviled prime minister, perhaps ever, is on their side.

Where to start? Perhaps it’s worth noting that, having resorted to hypnosis, she accidentally hypnotised the wrong people. The House of Commons have days to find a way through a brick wall which now has a solid titanium one built behind it. The public has no direct role to play in sorting any of this out. It is the MPs she needs to coax on to her side. So what did she do? She went on the attack.

“So far, parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice,” she said.

“Motion after motion and amendment after amendment have been tabled without parliament ever deciding what it wants.

“All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want.”

Absolutely none of this is true. MPs have been begging her for weeks, including on this very day, to hold indicative votes in parliament that will allow them to find a solution. She has flatly refused. What parliament has decided, emphatically, twice, is that it does not want *her* deal. At some point next week, MPs are probably going to be asked for a third time, to support her. Now, she has reached out for their support by going directly to the people and blaming parliament for her own, very personal failings.

Were it not for the towering terribleness of this performance, there would be time at least to pause and pass the blame around a bit. Jeremy Corbyn, for example, has been refusing to have any kind of cross-party discussions with Theresa May for some weeks now. Then, during Prime Minister’s Questions, he asked, over the despatch box, for a meeting.

She scheduled a meeting that afternoon, with leaders of opposition parties. When Jeremy Corbyn arrived and saw that Chuka Umunna was there, he walked out. Jeremy Corbyn is 70 in two months time. He remains a toddler.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, the Brexiteer Peter Bone had told Theresa May that, if the country did not leave the EU at the end of next week, it would be a “betrayal.” “History will judge you in this moment,” he said. The country is not leaving the EU at the end of next week because MPs keep voting Theresa May’s deal down. One of those MPs is, you’ve guessed it, Peter Bone. He is incapable of looking the full eight days back into history, to find that it was in fact he who has betrayed himself.

In the afternoon, the deputy speaker issued advice to MPs, suggesting they share taxis home for their own safety. In a crowded field, one of the most depressing moments of the last few years. And yet, a few hours later, The Daily Telegraph published a column by Nigel Farage. The great man himself tweeted out the headline: “I will tear Conservatives limb from limb.”

Dreadful people. Dreadful times. But even so, with the single worst speech Theresa May has ever given, right up to and including the one where she didn’t speak for forty minutes and accepted a P45 from a famous comedian and then the set fell apart, she nevertheless managed to shift all of the blame on to herself. Never has it been more clearly seen that she is just not normal, that she is so very, very far from being up to the job.

It was, in its way, almost heroic. Almost, in fact, super heroic. The question now is not how will it end, when will it ever end, but if it ever possibly can.

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