Back in 2017 during the general election, when Theresa May announced her U-turn on what Labour had successfully described as the dementia tax, she stood before the assembled press and intoned, “Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.” We know now that this wasn’t a mere attempt to brush away a politically embarrassing change in course by downplaying its significance, the kind of thing politicians frequently do, it was an insight into Theresa May’s soul. There are abandoned cars with no wheels or engines rusting away at the back of a scrap yard which have greater agility than Theresa May. There are fossils trapped in rocky sediments buried deep underground which have more life in them. The reason she loathes the EU’s principle of freedom of movement so much is that she’s incapable of movement herself.
Today, Wednesday, Theresa May stood before the House of Commons and yet again submerged herself in her fantasy world where nothing ever changes. This House has indulged itself for far too long, she lectured, as though her own self-indulgent red lines and refusal to negotiate with anyone except Jacob Ree Mogg hadn’t existed and she hadn’t spent the past two years offering the DUP cheques on the border. Nothing was her fault. Everything that had come to pass was the responsibility of MPs, of remainers, of the EU, of those who wilfully contradicted her, and only when they all returned to the one true path of St Theresa the Immobile could right and order be restored to the universe.
She stood at the dispatch desk and nodded solemnly at the righteousness of her own words. She glared at the opposition benches with the contempt of a Tory, immobile and unshakeable in her God-given right to rule. How dare they have different opinions. How dare they continue to defy her. At no stage did she display the slightest awareness that she had any role at all in the creation of this sorry mess, with her fetishisation of her red lines, her decision to put the unity of the Conservative party above all other considerations, her refusal to reach out and build a consensus, her bribery of the bigots of the DUP, and her inability and unwillingness to listen to anyone.
We are in the greatest crisis in the post-war history of the UK and the British state is led by a person who talks about respecting the will of the people while repeatedly ignoring the procedures and processes of parliamentary democracy. The only meaningful thing about her meaningful votes is that she means to keep repeating them until she gets the result that she wants. Theresa May’s plan to get her deal accepted remains the same as it was before it went down to the biggest defeat in Commons history. It remains the same as it was before it went down to the fourth biggest defeat in Commons history. It remains the same as it was before the Speaker told her that she can’t keep bringing it back to the House. This is stubbornness as a pathology. This isn’t being a “bloody difficult woman”, this is the behaviour of a person who has become unmoored from reality.
On Wednesday afternoon the Speaker of the Commons decided to permit an emergency debate to go ahead. The Prime Minister was notable by her absence. She was too busy writing her letter to the EU begging for an extension of Article 50 until 30 June. Just last week her government was arguing that any extension would have to be a long one since a short one off extension would be pointless. She didn’t even bother informing cabinet of her decision, yet now it’s what she’s asking for so that she can continue her pointless dance with the ERG. Everything changes so everything can remain the same.
This is a timetable that the EU has already hinted strongly that Theresa isn’t going to get. The EU has stated this week that they’re not disposed to grant a short extension merely in order to allow Theresa May more time to waste. They will only grant a short extension on the condition that she can win that vote that she’s already lost twice and which the Speaker has told her that she can’t keep putting back to the House. And no, they’re not going to renegotiate it. But the Prime Minister didn’t get where she is today by listening to anyone, and she certainly wasn’t about to start now.
She hadn’t even been listening to the person telling her when she needed to get her letter off to the EU, and so she missed the post. EU sources were saying late on Wednesday afternoon that EU leaders won’t be making a decision on Thursday about extending the deadline, because the letter arrived too late. You might think that getting important letters off in time was fundamental to basic office management. The fact that the UK can’t even manage that tells you all you need to know about why Chris Grayling and David Mundell still have jobs.
Then after sending her letter, and without even bothering to send MPs a copy, the Prime Minister called a meeting of party leaders in order to reach a cross-party consensus on a letter that she’d already sent. It’s the appearance of listening, without any of the substance. Jeremy Corbyn took the huff and refused to attend, because members of The Independent Group were present. He wasn’t about to let Theresa May win any competitions in immaturity and toddlerish foot-stomping. Reporting on the meeting, Ian Blackford of the SNP said it was the same old same old, my way or the Brexit cliff, from Theresa May.
We were then told, by the Irish Prime Minister no less, that the Prime Minister was going to make an announcement outside Number 10 at about 8pm in the evening. We’ve now reached the point where we have to rely on Dublin to tell us what’s going on in London.
Hacks started getting excited that perhaps she was going to announce her resignation, or perhaps she was going to announce a general election, or perhaps she was going to abandon some of her infamous red lines in an attempt to gain cross party support, or perhaps none of the above. The last couple of times she did her lectern in Downing Street thang she said absolutely nothing of any importance or relevance at all. It’s a fairly safe bet that this time will be no different and it will indeed be none of the above. Theresa May makes announcements as a way of occupying some time and going through the motions of politics without any of the actual motion or politics. She’s long since perfected the political art of constructing sentences that are devoid of semantic content and don’t answer any questions. It’s the only real political talent that she’s got.
Then just after 8.35 pm Theresa marched out in front of her lectern to make her much anticipated announcement with a look on her face that could fry half a pound of mince from halfway across the solar system. She told us how tired the public were of the indecision and the stalling. She didn’t mention how tired the public are of her. It’s all Parliament’s fault for not being able to support her. It’s all the fault of MPs that there’s going to be a delay to Brexit. It’s not her fault, oh no. She spoke about how divisive a failure to progress with Brexit would be, she didn’t mention her role in creating those divisions. So she’s determined to keep putting her deal to the Commons until she gets the result she wants. Bugger the Speaker. Bugger parliamentary convention. Bugger parliamentary democracy. Bugger everyone. Bugger reality. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.
Meanwhile a poll published today found that 90% of people believe that Brexit is a humiliation for the UK. So Brexit has produced a general consensus after all then. However in one important sense Theresa May is perfectly correct. The British state continues its decline into political chaos and what’s left of its reputation is being flushed down the Brexit toilet. We were screwed last week, and we’re screwed this week too. The UK is the land of cognitive dissonance, a misplaced exceptionalism, and nostalgic fantasy passing for policy. It’s five to midnight and nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.
Scotland, it’s time to wake up. This is not the UK that we were sold in 2014. It’s a UK that has sold us all out.
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