Is this the end? The tragedy is that she no longer knows. The Prime Minister’s destiny is in the hands of Britain’s de facto head of state, Donald Tusk. On March 20th, Mrs May told Parliament that ‘as Prime Minister’ she couldn’t countenance delaying Brexit beyond June 30th. If Tusk refuses her request for a second short extension, it’s hard to see how she can continue.
Theories and predictions abound. The noted political philosopher, Gina Miller, suggested yesterday that Mrs May could be using the Lab/Con talks as a scam that will enable her to complete a no-deal Brexit on April 12th and saddle Labour with the blame. The flaw in this scenario is that it credits the noodle-brained May with a degree of intelligence.
At PMQs she could barely handle a friendly question from her own side. Craig Tracey floated the option of a WTO Brexit on Friday. ‘Grab that opportunity,’ he enthused, ‘and believe in the ability of the British people and a Conservative government to make a success of it.’
She faltered and bumbled her way through a reply which included a bizarre new coinage, ‘the best Brexit.’
‘The best Brexit is for Britain to leave in an orderly way and to leave with a deal.’
Her halting off-kilter manner made one thing clear. The word Brexit now causes her acute physical discomfort.
Jeremy Corbyn, as so often, sprang to her rescue. He avoided the B-word and snarled his way through a stump speech that might have been written in the 1980s. Or the 1880s come to that. Carping about Tory cuts, he called the Prime Minister ‘cruel’ and ‘vindictive’ and he accused her of impoverishing Britain as a ‘political choice.’
Easy for her to reject his statistics and boast of tax-cuts, wage rises and the latest job-surge. But still she looked frail and haunted. She had the face of a granite cherub ravaged by shrapnel.
Ian Blackford tried winkling a single honest reply from her about the Labour/ Conservative talks. He asked if a second referendum had been offered to Labour:
‘Yes or no, Prime Minister?’
In reply she did her ‘Mrs Dithers’ routine, wavering and havering. She claimed that she personally opposed a second referendum but admitted that parliament might nod one through as part of a withdrawal bill. Her final remark to Blackford felt like a long-pondered barb. She rebuked him for lobbying to cancel Brexit even though ‘Scottish independence would have meant taking Scotland out of the EU.’
For most of the session, May recited answers from briefing papers. Only once did she show a flash of her former confidence. Eco-nuisance, Caroline Lucas, asked the PM to meet young Greta Thunberg, an international truant who encourages schools to close on Fridays so that exhibitionist children can pose for TV cameras. Dr Lucas recited some highlights from Ms Thunberg’s formidable CV. Not only has the teenage revolutionary berated the billionaires of Davos for using too much kerosene in their jets, she has also harangued the Pope on the same issue. One wonders how she travels from her home in Sweden to Davos, Rome and Westminster. Presumably she walks some of the way and swims the rest.
Mrs May rounded angrily on Dr Lucas and cited a school in her constituency which has won multiple awards for its eco-purity. She dared Dr Lucas to ‘stand up’ and congratulate the government on its planet-friendly dolphin-hugging policies. Dr Lucas shook her brunette locks and emitted an indignant laugh.
The session ended, and the PM flew abroad to plead for her political life with a foreign power.