The latest leaks reveal that Theresa May promises one thing but does the other, puts herself before her Party, and puts not-leaving before no-deal.
Only last week, three splitters from the Conservative Party falsely accused her of being governed by Brexiteers and a nebulous “right-wing.” By the end of the week, we learnt that the Prime Minister was again wooing Remainers by privately ruling out leaving without a deal on 29 March. Three Cabinet ministers showed who really governs the Conservative Party when they publicly stated that they would defy her whip or resign if she doesn’t rule out leaving without a deal. They claimed that at least 30 Remainer Conservative MPs were prepared to defy her whip. The splitters had claimed that 20 were prepared to cross the floor on the same issue.
We learnt also that May planned to postpone any Commons vote on her stalled Withdrawal Agreement 2.0 to 17 days before the legislated withdrawal date.
We learnt additionally that her office has been planning to postpone the withdrawal date by two months. Yet in previous statements she has promised that she would never postpone Brexit. On 7 February, she Tweeted: “I’m clear that I am going to deliver Brexit, I’m going to deliver it on time.” Indeed, postponement does not help her strategy to present Parliament with a false choice between her deal and no deal, and no time to negotiate a better deal.
Today, anonymous officials in her office claim that her plan to postpone Brexit has been superseded by her plan to postpone a vote on her stalled Withdrawal Agreement 2.0. Yet these plans do not necessarily prevent each other, and her promise that they are mutually exclusive cannot be trusted. Parliament could reject her Withdrawal Agreement 2.0 on 12 March, but she would still have 17 days to seek an extension to Article 50 – and most Parliamentarians prefer an extension to leaving without a deal.
Theresa May is clearly governed by the Remainer majority in Parliament, in her own Cabinet, and in her own mind. This is not the first time she has played both sides, while clearly favouring Remainers. Back in January, the Commons passed an amendment calling for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out. More than dozen Conservative MPs voted against her then. She subsequently called them in to reassure that she was on their side: she would not leave without a deal. In separate private meetings in her office, she called in representatives of the European Research Group to reassure that she agreed with them that ruling out no deal would ruin her negotiating strength.
Oh, the tangled web we weave when at first we try to deceive. When we deceive repeatedly, nobody could trust us. Theresa May is irredeemably untrustworthy – she was irredeemable a year ago, for defecting on her promise to replace membership with a free trade agreement, her promise to leave the customs union, and her promise to keep Northern Ireland within the British Union – and without the European Union. Yet she still poses as the victim of events, rather than the person most responsible for events.
She just cannot learn from her mistakes, as I warned last spring. Although she flip-flops and talks out of both sides of her face, ultimately her biases triumph. She puts Remainers before Brexiteers, her purgatorial Withdrawal Agreement before a better deal, Parliament before people, and the Parliamentary Conservative Party before the majority of the Party.
The people she repeatedly betrays are the majority who voted for Brexit in June 2016, and the majority of her own Party – the majority that lies outside of Parliament in the constituencies and the nation at large, a majority that has always favoured Brexit, and has always been frustrated by the parliamentary Party.
By coincidence, the non-parliamentary Party had the opportunity to make this clear on Saturday, when the National Conservative Convention (a conference of local association chairs) agreed by 72 to 15 votes a motion to leave the EU on time, and not to rule out “no deal,” but to rule out a second referendum. The motion concluded that anything else “would betray the 2016 people’s vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”
Indeed. Never mind the split between three Conservative MPs last week, and 30 potentials this week – the bigger split in the Conservative Party is between the parliamentary majority (Remain) and the constituency majority (Brexit).
If May doesn’t deliver Brexit on time, she will face not just a few dozen of her peers defecting, but thousands of party workers leaving or giving up the party’s work.
But don’t expect May to admit any of that. Expect May to organize another telephone conference call or mass mailing to local constituency chairs, reassuring them that she’s actually on their side. Meanwhile, she’ll be working on a false choice between not leaving at all and her bad deal.