Standing at the dispatch box, begging Members of Parliament for the second time to vote for her Brexit deal, Theresa May’s voice had all but deserted her. Shortly afterwards, as MPs were asked to enter different lobbies depending on whether they accepted or rejected her deal, a good chunk of her own political party did the latter. The slogan of one of the Leave campaigns was “Take Back Control,” yet instead the United Kingdom has descended into an apocalyptic morass under the helm of the Conservatives.
The following morning, journalists were summoned to a meeting so early they were warned at 5 AM that there would be no coffee facilities, so they should bring their own. By 7 AM, the government had released a document detailing plans for the Irish border in the event the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal.
Previously, hard Brexiters in government had argued that a technological solution would be found to prevent a hard border, albeit one that had not yet been invented or used on any border anywhere on earth. Now, they had a new and much easier idea: simply don’t bother collecting tariffs on goods coming from the south of Ireland to the north.
The idea was met with universal disbelief by journalists, and absolute rage from business owners in the north of Ireland. Several sent me text messages describing it as “fucking dogshit” and “absolute bollix. It will turn Northern Ireland into the wild west within six weeks and make the horse meat scandal look like a children’s party.” (In 2013, portions of the Irish “beef” supply were found to consist of horse meat, causing a Europe-wide uproar.) Essentially the proposal was little more than a smugglers’ charter, had it had any chance of being implemented. In reality, it was simply an attempt to panic Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and the right of the Conservative party into backing May’s deal on a possible third attempt.
May’s plan currently appears to be to wear people down in the hope they vote through her plan on the third, possibly fourth attempt — like asking someone on a date endlessly until they say yes purely to shut you up. It’s not a great basis for a relationship, and it isn’t the best way to make political headway. Threats haven’t worked for May thus far: she used the looming March 29 deadline to attempt to herd MPs into voting for her plan, to no avail — and yet she soldiers on with her completely untenable border proposals.
It may appear obvious that the Tories are in disarray, tearing each other limb from limb, utterly paralyzed in Parliament and intent on stabbing their leader in the back, yet too terrified to move to a general election for fear their so hated Jeremy Corbyn will easily win the poll. But the media instead are focusing on Labour, picking apart statements and complaining that Labour’s ministers are not “full-throated” enough on the prospect of a second referendum.
It’s a peculiar line to take immediately after another catastrophic defeat for a prime minister who is acting without the faith of a large chunk of her colleagues, and who cannot force a single vote through the Commons without a huge defeat. The country is ungovernable because the Tories are in shambles, and yet, as ever, it is Labour that is inexplicably shouldered with the blame.
Jeremy Corbyn has been characterized as somehow harboring a secret “Stop Brexit” button that he refuses to push: that he hasn’t done so is not — as logic might dictate — because the parliamentary arithmetic for him to do so is not there, but apparently because he is a secret Brexiter. He was attacked during the referendum for honestly answering that his enthusiasm for remaining in the European Union stood at “seven, seven and a half out of 10.”
Any politician claiming 100 percent enthusiasm for such a flawed institution as the European Union is frankly lying. The majority of the population, however they voted in the referendum (and many didn’t) have mixed feelings about different aspects of the European Union. Indeed, more honest talk such as this might have averted the current political situation, by dint of convincing the public that our political class weren’t trying to sell them a lie at every turn.
Whatever happens next, somehow Labour will be blamed, or the opposition and Corbyn’s response will be deemed insufficient. The sensible route, currently being followed by Labour, would be backing the vote to rule out crashing out of the European Union with No Deal, and arguing for the least harmful exit to the European Union and resolution of our current impasse, which may still include a vote on whether to accept May’s deal or remain in the European Union. The next few weeks are entirely up in the air, but one surety remains: the Tories will get a far easier ride in the press, however appallingly and incapably they govern.