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Analysis

May’s toxic speech looks like massive own goal

by Luke Lythgoe | 21.03.2019

Amidst the unfolding Brexit chaos, some MPs might have been edging towards backing Theresa May’s rotten deal. Not after the prime minister’s speech last night, a grotesque bid to pitch people against Parliament. This is what losing control looks like.

Not only was May’s speech aggressive and arrogant, revealing a staggering contempt for British democracy. It was also a delusional attempt to absolve herself of any blame for the worrying Brexit stalemate we find ourselves in. It was deeply unconvincing coming from Westminster’s can-kicker-in-chief.

“You the public have had enough,” condescended the prime minister. “I’m on your side.” So who’s on the other side? Politicians who don’t like May’s deal, whom the prime minister accused of “infighting”, “political games” and “arcane procedural rows”. As Tory pro-European Sam Gyimah tweeted: “Democracy loses when a PM who has set herself against the House of Commons then blames MPs for doing their job… Toxic.”

Gyimah was never going to vote for the deal. But what about someone like Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan? She is one of those potential Labour rebels that the prime minister needs to push her deal through Parliament. Nandy even tabled an amendment shortly before May’s speech which could have eased that process.

Any hope of Nandy’s support now seems gone. For her, the speech was an “attack on liberal democracy itself”. She confirmed: “I will not support a government that takes such a reckless, dangerous approach.”

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May’s own ministers look poised to turn on her too. One member of the government told The Times the prime minister was a “disgrace” and predicted Cabinet resignations. “One day there will be an inquiry and she will be judged to have been unfit for the office.”

It’s not like forcing MPs to back the deal was ever an easy task. May’s long-standing strategy – unsuccessful so far – has been to deploy a pair of contradictory bogeymen. For Labour rebels and sceptical Tories, there’s the threat of “no deal”. For hardline Brexiters, the threat of no Brexit at all. Good luck convincing both sides, from the same dispatch box, that their bogeyman is the real one.

Any MPs worried that May’s bullying tactics will turn their constituents against them should heed the words of Dominic Grieve in yesterday’s emergency Brexit debate. While no politicians will come out of this looking good, he argued, “the contempt falls much more on the government who are doing this than on [MPs] who are voicing their individual views and doing the best they can to represent their constituents’ interests.”

What’s more, there’s no evidence May has a clue what people want. For instance on the issue of a new referendum, she told the nation last night: “I don’t believe [a new referendum] is what you want – and it is not what I want.”

But that’s not what opinion polling suggests, with support for a new vote at 57% versus 43% against. And it won’t be the message that hundreds and thousands of people will be shouting in the streets of London on Saturday. This march is a chance to make it clear that the prime minister is out of step with the people. We don’t want her miserable deal. We want Brexit put to the people.

3 Responses to “May’s toxic speech looks like massive own goal”

  • I agree and would love if the People’s Vote embraced all of those who wish to Revoke Article 50 – and are signing the Petition for the latter. Many are the same but we are all one in protection of our EU/UK interests.