It’s a sad sight: Britain’s prime minister locked in an endless merry-go-round of hopeless and humiliating trips to Europe, dead-eyed statements to the press and cabinet resignations.
Today Theresa May stood in the House of Commons defending a draft Brexit deal that everyone, including her, knows is doomed. Rumoured Brexit secretary-in-waiting Michael Gove stands more chance of becoming People Magazine’s next “Sexiest Man Alive” than May’s EU Withdrawal Deal does of making it through parliament.
The resignations of Dominic Raab – the Brexit secretary who just realised last week that Britain is an island – and Esther McVey – the work and pensions secretary who should have been sacked long ago – are unlikely to topple May’s government. But things are far from tickety-boo when ministers are telling the press that the government is “f***** in every hole”.
As MP after MP lined up to criticise May’s deal, there was an unmistakably defeatist, conciliatory air to the prime minister’s demeanour. Sensing this, her own MPs and even a handful of Labour MPs went out of their way to praise her before expressing their reservations. One even said he “felt sorry” for her. Despite these niceties, it is difficult to recall a time when a prime minister has taken such a thrashing from all sides of the House of Commons.
Yet sympathy for May is easy to find on social media, where many have expressed the belief that her premiership has been doomed from the beginning. While it is easy to empathise with May on a human level and indulge the narrative that she’s done the best she can in an “impossible” situation, it’s important to remember that this is, to put it bluntly, utter bollocks.
From the moment May filled her first cabinet with the most duplicitous, incompetent Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox, her leadership has been defined by her inability to stand up to those who pursue an economically devastating hard Brexit. After surrounding herself with venomous snakes who have repeatedly sought to mislead the British people, putting their own ambitions before the country, it is any wonder she’s now getting bitten?
After spending the last two years insisting “no deal is better than a bad deal”, May is now desperately peddling the narrative that she’s out of options: it’s her deal (which, by all accounts, is a bad deal), no deal or no Brexit. But this isn’t true. There is a clear majority in parliament for a deal that secures Britain’s membership of the single market and customs union. It is likely that a majority also exists for calling a vote on the final deal too, with remain as an option.
But pandering to Remainers or even soft Brexiteers has never been high on May’s agenda. Instead, she has continually sought to keep herself in office by conceding to the small but vocal minority of right-wingers in her own party - a strategy that has been fatal for previous Tory leaders.
Next time you feel a twinge of sympathy for Theresa May, think of the Northern Irish LGBT+ people still denied equal marriage rights, or the women who have no access to legal abortion, all because she’s too scared to confront the DUP. Her twisted alliance with Northern Ireland’s unionist party – which now appears to have disintegrated anyway – cost £1bn at a time when food bank usage is at a record high and public services have been starved of cash. If May hadn’t called a general election to boost her own ego, then disastrously lost it, this alliance would not have been necessary.
Think about the gay Brexit whistleblower who was outed by Downing Street, only for May to stand by the adviser who did it. Think of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – the mother locked in jail in Iran, whose sentence was prolonged by Boris Johnson’s sheer incompetence – only for May to refuse to sack him. Think of the images of May holding hands with Donald Trump and rolling out the red carpet for him, after refusing to condemn his attacks on London’s mayor Sadiq Khan.
Remember that as home secretary, May repeatedly stoked anti-immigrant sentiments which were weaponised during 2016’s EU referendum. She might have let Amber Rudd take the fall for the Windrush scandal, but she was the original architect of the “hostile environment” policy. As prime minister, she has never condemned right-wing press attacks that characterised her critics as “saboteurs” or even “enemies of the people”. She also supported the Conservatives standing alone in voting with Hungary’s anti-immigrant, antisemitic and homophobic far-right in Brussels.
May’s current predicament has been created by her insistence on governing solely for the 52 per cent and those who claim to represent them. As Jacob Rees-Mogg submits his letter of no confidence, followed by a slew of pro-Brexit Tories, May must wish she hadn’t given the Tory right’s poisonous weed such opportunity to grow.
Having promised "strong and stable" leadership, May has instead provided unending chaos. Her time in Downing Street will be remembered as a mixture of supreme incompetence partnered with moral bankruptcy and unrivalled spinelessness. At one of the most crucial points in British history, Mayism has turned out to be nothing but mayhem – so let’s save our sympathy for someone more deserving.
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