Tuesday 23 April 2019

Michael Deacon: 'Commons close to meltdown as May stokes flames'


UK Prime Minister Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons today. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire
UK Prime Minister Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons today. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire

Michael Deacon

Prime Minister's Question time was terrible. Well, obviously it was terrible, it's always terrible, but yesterday it was terrible in a new and terrible way. It was terrible not just politically but emotionally. The mood was beyond angry. It was desperate. Frantic, stricken, bug-eyed, pleading. The Commons, it seemed, was on the brink of a breakdown.

Theresa May had asked the EU to delay Brexit until June 30, and no one was remotely happy. Brexiteers feared that the delay would be too long; Remainers feared it would be too short. "Resign!" screamed Labour MPs.

Normally when they scream "Resign!", it sounds like a taunt. Here it sounded like a plea. They were begging her.

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Brexiteer Peter Bone warned Mrs May that she risked "betraying the British people", and "history will judge you". Voice cracking in despair, Remainer Yvette Cooper implored Mrs May to understand that her actions were "deeply dangerous".

Several MPs protested that, just days earlier, Mrs May's de facto deputy (David Lidington) had told the Commons a short delay would be "downright reckless" - yet now this was what she'd requested.

Other MPs howled that Mr Lidington had promised them a series of votes on what to do next - yet now she was reneging.

On the prime minister, however, none of this appeared to make even the faintest impression. The more everyone told her she was wrong, the more certain she seemed that she was right. It was beyond mere stubbornness. What we saw, yesterday, was an imperious, unyielding, almost holy conviction. A conviction that she alone knew what was best for the country - and anyone who disagreed with her, therefore, must want the worst.

With a glare that would have burnt a hole through a bank vault door, she accused the Commons - the entire Commons - of "indulging itself", "contemplating its navel", and refusing to "face the consequences" of its decisions.

Seriously. She was insulting every MP in the House - at a time when she urgently needs their votes. Talk about a charm offensive. I wonder what she's like when she's out canvassing in an election.

"Good evening, sir. My name is Theresa May, and I'm your local Conservative candidate. Are you aware that, if you don't vote for me, you are not only stupid but grotesquely unattractive, and deserve the undying contempt of your wife, children, colleagues and household pets?"

Afterwards came two urgent questions on Brexit, and an emergency debate for good measure. The House continued to fret and fume.

Dominic Grieve said Mrs May's behaviour at PMQs had made him "ashamed" to be a Conservative. Rather than "castigate the House for its misconduct", he seethed, perhaps Mrs May could consider whether the fault for this crisis might actually, just a little bit, to some small degree, lie with her.

Introspection from Theresa May. Some hope. He might as well expect it from an iceberg. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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