Theresa May scraped through yet another day of abject Brexit and general chaos on Monday – but in doing so demonstrated a level of cowardice that reached such unprecedented levels that observers were left wondering if they’d really seen what they saw.
May’s much-discussed and denigrated ‘Chequers’ proposals on a ‘common rulebook’ with the EU were debated and voted on on Monday evening – proposals that even seemed to confuse her, as she gave away on Sunday on the BBC’s Marr show.
But the Tories’ Brexit ‘ultras’ were so outraged by her decision to align the UK tightly to EU rules and regulations that they tabled amendments and threatened to vote against her to not only defeat the proposals but also to end her tenure as PM.
May’s response was to capitulate completely, performing a screeching, hand-brake u-turn – in which she whipped Tory MPs to vote against her own proposals.
Tory hard-Brexiters including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel, Peter Bone and Iain Duncan Smith’s key amendment aimed to block May’s plan to collect taxes on behalf of the EU as part of the alignment:
May was staring defeat in the face – and ‘avoided’ defeat, in the most bizarre of technicalities, by ordering her party to vote against her own plan. This meant that, because she whipped her MPs to vote for the rebel amendment and against her plan, that she could claim it was not a defeat.
As long as she ‘won’, of course.
But this capitulation in turn enraged her own remain/soft-Brexit MPs – and caused Defence Minister Guto Bebb to resign his position so that he could vote against the whip.
In the end May scraped through – just – surviving by a mere three votes.
By defeating her own plan.
Journalist Shehab Khan was mystified:
Labour’s Andrew Fisher was scarcely able to believe his eyes:
May was not on show in the House at the moment the result was announced – fearful, perhaps, that her expression would become an icon of chaotic incompetence for decades or even centuries.
But the announcement of her self-defeat was shown on the parliamentary TV service – and the noise from MPs at the announcement of the result leaves little doubt of the strangeness of the moment:
So profound is her cowardice that May has tabled a craven motion for debate tomorrow in which she will attempt to shut down the Commons days early, in order to avoid the near-certainty of attempts by her own MPs to remove her, as well as the certain derision of the Opposition.
But while Mrs May can try to run, she can’t hide – and the extraordinary, even unprecedented lengths to which she went on Monday evening to save her skin have rendered her a humiliated laughing stock – to both wings of her own party and unquestionably to EU leaders and negotiators.
If she succeeds in getting her adjournment passed, she might cling to her political life for a couple of months more, but instead of summer she will exist in a ‘nuclear winter’ of her own making, with what shreds remained of her credibility now mere ashes.
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