Saturday 29 April 2017

May throws down the gauntlet in eight startling minutes

A betting company employee writes odds on a blackboard outside London’s Houses of Parliament Picture: AFP/Getty
A betting company employee writes odds on a blackboard outside London’s Houses of Parliament Picture: AFP/Getty

Michael Deacon

Theresa May said she'd made her decision "with reluctance". It was hard to believe. She looked about as reluctant as a pitbull sniffing a pork chop.

When it was announced that the British prime minister would be making an urgent statement outside 10 Downing Street, Westminster was beside itself. In the past, Mrs May had insisted there would be no election before 2020. So could her statement be about Scotland? Northern Ireland? Surely she wasn't about to resign?

Into Downing Street the media swarmed. Overhead, helicopters thundered. Tension gnawed the air.

Then, at five past 11, the prime minister emerged. Instant silence. Reaching her lectern, she looked from side to side, took a breath, and then began.

"I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet," she intoned, "where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8."

At first, her manner was calm, measured, even matter-of-fact. But then, as she explained why she wanted an election, it unmistakably changed.

Her brow darkened. Her voice hardened. The temperature seemed to drop 20 degrees.

It was all, she made clear, about Brexit - and the difference between its success, and its failure. "At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster," she glowered. "But instead there is division. The country is coming together. But Westminster is not."

Her eyes glittered like ice. No longer was she merely announcing an election. She was launching a coldly furious political attack.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, "unelected lords" - all of them, growled Mrs May, were hampering the chances of a successful Brexit. They and their "game-playing" could "grind the business of government to a standstill", "jeopardise the work we must do", "weaken the Government's negotiating position". They could even (she did not specify how) "endanger the security of millions of working people". As a result, an election was essential.

Indeed, more than that: a thumping Conservative win was essential. Essential to prevent rival parties foiling Brexit. Essential to strengthen Mrs May's hand in her negotiations with the EU. Essential to "secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit".

She could hardly have been more blunt. Brexit would only be a success if the Tories won on June 8, and won well. The alternative was "a weak and unstable coalition government" - giving power to MPs who longed to stop Brexit altogether.

She called her announcement "a challenge to the opposition parties". Yet, just as much, it felt like a challenge to the public. Or even a threat. Vote Tory - or on your own head be it. You - not just Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the lords, but you, the ordinary voter - will have undermined the Brexit negotiations, and therefore the future prosperity of the nation.

After eight minutes, she brought this startling performance to a halt. "Thank you," she muttered, and strode back into Number 10.

She had thrown down the gauntlet. Not just to her opponents. But to all of us.

Irish Independent

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