Brexit Deal-Watch 3: May says she’ll ‘get the runs in the end’. But the stumps are long gone
15 November 2018 18:33
For a moment, it seemed that she might be about to resign, opening her remarks at Number Ten with a wistful reflection upon the burdens of office. But then – like the fall of a prosthetic foot – the Theresa May we all know was back in the room, repeating those oh-so-familiar platitudes about the national interest, the best Brexit available, and the impact that our departure from the EU would have on ‘almost every area of our national life’.
Channelling Norman Lamont’s famously devastating verdict on John Major, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg asked the PM if she was ‘in office but not in power’. Not a bit of it, May replied. More boilerplate rhetoric about getting the job done. She did not quite muster a Thatcheresque: ‘I fight on, I fight to win.’ But she evoked the spirit of the cricketer, Geoffrey Boycott, who ‘got the runs in the end’ (though, to my eyes, the stumps were drawn long ago). And she gave the assembled hacks the line they were looking for: ‘Am I going to see this through? Yes.’
More than once, she was asked, explicitly or otherwise, whether she was in denial, or guilty of wilful blindness. There was an uncomfortable atmosphere in the room, as if the principal player were suffering from chronic delusion and being gently questioned by her physicians. May’s singular talent (if that is the word) is to keep on keeping on. She has survived the loss of the Conservative Commons majority in June 2017, a series of attempted coups, and relentless media assault. She appears immune to political embarrassment, committed to nothing so much as to shrug off all attacks and to stay where she is. Brexit means Brexit. Staying the course means staying the course.
Yet nobody seriously believes that she is in control of her destiny, or denies that what authority she still possessed yesterday is draining fast from the cockpit of Downing Street. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s announcement that he now supports a confidence vote in the Tory leader was a clear declaration of what the hardliners of the European Research Group are now planning. They want a new boss and a new deal. Let Brexit be done, though the heavens fall.
Dominic Raab and Esther McVey made the running this morning. Now the ball lies squarely in the court of the two men who led the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, but were sundered during the leadership race that followed David Cameron’s resignation.
Michael Gove is reported to have been offered the job of Brexit Secretary – and to have indicated that he would only accept the job if he were given the freedom to renegotiate (latitude that the PM would certainly not be keen to grant). What he does next is of great significance in this unfolding national drama.
And where is Boris Johnson? Trust me, he’ll emerge soon, clutching a cream-stuffed cake that he intends both to keep, and to eat.