Thursday 19 September 2019

Michael Deacon: 'Winter is here for May as pitiful drama plays out in the Commons'

Tumble: A journalist looks at a computer showing the plummet in the value of the pound after the day of chaos. Picture: AFP/Getty
Tumble: A journalist looks at a computer showing the plummet in the value of the pound after the day of chaos. Picture: AFP/Getty

Michael Deacon

Outside Parliament, a man with bagpipes was playing the theme tune from 'Game of Thrones'. You know: the long-running drama serial about politics and betrayal, in which a cast of ruthless sociopaths battle each other bloodily for power.

It's not quite like Britain's political crisis, though. First, the characters are more believable. And second, at least 'Game of Thrones' is guaranteed to end next year.

Yesterday morning, Theresa May trudged into the Commons, still digesting the letter she'd been sent by Dominic Raab (in summary: "Dear prime minister, I hadn't quite understood the full extent of this, but apparently I was meant to be Brexit secretary").

His resignation had been followed by that of Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and a scattering of junior colleagues.

Westminster fizzed with gossip of more resignations, and a vote of no confidence. And while all this chaos was raging, Mrs May was having to come and make a statement to MPs: a statement promoting a Brexit deal that she must have known in advance hardly any of them supported.

Still, if we've learnt one thing about Mrs May, it's that she has a preternaturally high threshold for pain. She rose to speak. "RESIGN!" shouted a handful of MPs. I think they were from the Opposition, but it was hard to be sure.

She ignored them, and plodded gamely through her speech. It was received in almost total silence.

Even her confirmation that free movement would end earned not a single "hear, hear". Deflated Tories sat staring at nothing in particular. Boris Johnson slumped on his bench. He looked like a dejected haystack.

The first serious attack came not from a Tory, but the DUP's Nigel Dodds. Something about his manner was different from usual. Often he's irate to the point of incoherence, like a patient trying to berate a dentist during root canal work. "ARR HARR ARR! ARR HARR ARR ARR!" Yesterday, however, Mr Dodds sounded clear, cold, and deadly. Listing Mrs May's broken promises would be "a waste of time", he seethed, because "she never listens".

Now came the Tory Brexiteers. Mark Francois told her that her deal was "dead on arrival". Andrew Bridgen accused her of "dancing to [Remainers'] tune". Jacob Rees-Mogg asked her why he shouldn't call for a vote of no confidence in her. Hardly anyone, from any party, offered support for Mrs May's deal. On and on it went. Three solid hours of complaints.

To her credit, Mrs May withstood the onslaught with unwavering dignity, composure and patience. It was genuinely impressive. If she does get forced out there's definitely a job waiting for her in customer services.

While she was still speaking, Brexiteers sloped out to submit their letters of no confidence. The day of chaos lurched hysterically on. No one, anywhere, seemed to have a clue what was going on.

Were more ministers quitting? Why had no new ministers been appointed to replace the ones who'd quit? Had enough Tory MPs submitted letters to trigger a vote of confidence? And was the prime minister about to quit of her own accord? At 5.20pm, we at least got an answer to that last question - as Mrs May launched into a rare press conference in Downing Street.

She looked shattered - but sounded resolute. She was going to fight on. Or, in her own phrase: "Am I going to see this through? Yes!" (She said it twice, word for word the same. Clearly it had been agreed and rehearsed beforehand. This is the line, prime minister. This is the line.)

What struck me more than her words, though, was her smile. It was a pained smile. Almost a wince. A grimace of forced jollity. An agonised stab at merriment.

It was impossible not to feel something for her. Even as the walls of her premiership were collapsing about her, here she was, still plugging away as if all were well. Or as if, as someone once put it, "Nothing has changed." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Also in Business