After Theresa May’s government made history on Tuesday with three successive Commons defeats – including the first contempt of Parliament defeat since the 1970s – ministers were given no respite with a Brexit debate that ran on until 1am. The Prime Minister’s address to start that session was overshadowed somewhat by the various Commons clashes along with the news of Dominic Grieve’s Brexit amendment passing (see Isabel for what it means for the government’s plans here). But the statement is important to note as it appeared to mark a change in tone.
May adopted a frank manner – and told MPs of the difficulties and sacrifices she had made to get to this point:
‘I have spent nearly two years negotiating this deal. I have lost valued colleagues along the way. And faced fierce criticism from all sides.
If I had banged the table, walked out of the room and at the end of the process delivered the very same deal that is before us today, some might say I had done a better job.
But I didn’t play to the gallery, I focused on getting a deal that honours the referendum and sets us on course for a bright future – and I did so through painstaking hard work.’
Now, this is the kind of speech one might expect to hear when someone is leaving a role – and wishing to shape their legacy – rather than setting out their stall for another few years of frontline politics. Eagle-eyed Westminster watchers have been quick to speculate that it could mean a resignation is in the offing given that it sounded a bit like May was trying to write her own political obituary in advance – to shape the narrative about the role she has played in the Brexit process.
So, is May’s departure imminent? We’ve heard this claim many times before and yet May has an ability to bounce back at the most unlikely points. Those around her are also adamant that she is committed to seeing the Brexit process through. But given that it would take a miracle of some sort for May to win next week’s vote – and everything from that point starts to get very unpredictable – perhaps it’s little wonder that the Prime Minister wants to take what opportunities she has to make clear how she would like to be remembered by the history books.