Nigel Hastilow: Brexiteers and Remainers both losers in this political mess
We can't just blame the PM - Brexiteers AND Remainers have been let down by an entire political class, writes Nigel Hastilow.
The lady’s not for turning. That, at any rate, is the message from Theresa May as she faces a vote of no confidence by the rabble of Conservative MPs she is nominally leading.
Mrs May did not actually quote Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase. But the message was the same: resignations, headlines, batterings in the Commons make no difference. She is ploughing on.
And you have to say she is all the more admirable for it. ‘Am I going to see this through? Yes,’ she said at a press conference arranged on Thursday evening after another day of disasters.
Viewers of the BBC were led to believe Mrs May might be about to announce something radical and new. The implication, and the cause of the Beeb’s excitement, was the possibility – hope? expectation? – that she would announce her resignation.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Our Prime Minister seems truly to believe she is the leader for this crisis. She even gave a little lecture on the art of leadership, which was ironic given her political world was collapsing around her ears.
Tory Brexiteers are trying to engineer her downfall because of the feeble nature of her Brexit agreement with the EU. The trouble is we have all seen this coming. Brexit has been a slow-motion car crash for months.
If they really wanted to change the direction of the Brexit talks and had any vision of how a real departure could be achieved, they should have got rid of Mrs May months ago.
As soon as she lost the General Election last year, she should have been given her marching orders. She failed and she has been a failure ever since.
But engineering a coup against her now, as the country is looking down the barrel of the Brexit gun, is extraordinarily irresponsible.
If there is a leadership contest, it will expose further the deep divisions in the Conservative Party. Mrs May would probably survive a vote of no confidence, in which case the whole exercise is futile gesture politics. If she lost and had to go, we would have wasted weeks while several delusional Tories slug it out in the mistaken belief they could become the next Prime Minister.
And the Brexit deadline of March 29 would get closer and nothing would happen, making it even more likely we will leave without a deal.
Some MPs think piling pressure on Mrs May will force her to go back to Brussels and renegotiate her deal. But look at it from the EU’s point of view.
Brussels doesn’t want Britain to leave but if we must then the EU wants to make it as difficult and expensive as possible. They do not want to help us and care nothing for Mrs May’s political travails.
Indeed, from the EU’s point of view, the more chaotic, the better. And why should they bother to renegotiate the deal even if Mrs May or some new PM crawled back to Brussels cap in hand to beg for a better deal?
Mrs May is not the only politician to have failed. Our entire political class has let down the country, Remainers and Brexiteers.
Their collective failure means there isn’t a Parliamentary majority for no deal; there isn’t a parliamentary majority for Mrs May’s deal; and there isn’t a parliamentary majority for a re-deal second referendum.
In other words, Parliament is as flummoxed as the rest of us. Each MP knows very well what she or he does not want and what they find totally unacceptable. But there is nothing close to a consensus about what we should have instead.
Someone has got to make a decision some time and Mrs May has at least come up with some sort of answer. It’s much more comfortable to sit on the sidelines whingeing than it is to try to negotiate a deal.
Britain voted for Brexit. Mrs May’s deal is hardly any Brexit at all but at least it’s a start, maybe something to build on. If MPs really respected the referendum result, they would take what’s on offer, no matter how flawed, because it’s a start.
Instead they are belatedly trying to oust Mrs May, who has summoned her inner Geoffrey Boycott as she tries to duck all the bouncers.
Remember another Margaret Thatcher quote, from November 1990, after she won the first round of a leadership contest against Michael Heseltine but not by a wide enough margin to see off her opponent.
‘We fight on, we fight to win,’ she told the world. Two days later, she was gone.
A friend of mine with a penchant for betting told me he had secured odds of 12-1 on Michael Gove becoming the next Prime Minister.
I said if I were a gambling man, my money would be on the next PM being Jeremy Corbyn. He checked the odds. It turned out Corbyn was the 5-1 favourite.
Welcome to my nightmare.