The most damaging thing that Theresa May did last week was to turn on MPs in her Downing Street statement, blaming them for the Brexit chaos. Given how settled Westminster seems to be on this conclusion, you might expect the Prime Minister to have tried to mend broken bridges in her Commons statement this afternoon. That she didn’t underlines why so much of this mess is her own responsibility. May was not strident, but neither was she making any attempt to mollify MPs. Indeed, her only attempt to engage with MPs’ role in this involved yet another lecture about the number of chances they had been given to put amendments down for a second referendum, and that any attempts to stop Brexit was ‘not respecting the voters and not respecting our democracy’.
MPs will also complain about her assertion in her statement that indicative votes would produce ‘contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all’, and that she could not ‘commit the government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House’.
Her strategy now is to warn about the dangers of no Brexit or something she calls ‘slow Brexit’, which is not a new trendy expression of the slow food movement, but just an agonisingly drawn-out negotiation involving more elections to the European Parliament.
So her argument was that while her deal was a compromise, ‘if this House can back it, we could be out of the European Union in less than two months’. She said there was still insufficient support in the House for a third meaningful vote, but that she still hoped she might be able to bring it forward at some point this week.
It is, to be fair to May, difficult to see how she could produce a statement that did mollify MPs at this stage, but while she doesn’t want to trust MPs to come up with their own version of Brexit, she does see this decision as being in the hands of the Commons: it’s just that she still thinks there is only one decision, and that’s to back her deal.