The Prime Minister’s statement last night was extraordinary. Not because it told us anything new – that is never the purpose of her announcements outside No10 – but because it was thoroughly stupid. Neither strategically nor morally were Theresa May’s words wise. Just as she did during PMQs, the leader-in-name-only blamed parliament for the Brexit chaos and tried to send a message of solidarity to the ‘Bored of Brexit’ public. Presumably, the PM is attempting to shape her legacy before being forced out of office, and to establish a narrative in which she is the underdog being attacked by the nasty EU and nasty MPs.
There are countless problems with this strategy. First, let’s address the absolute cheek of it. As she argued that MPs should be concentrating less on Brexit and more on the problems faced by the NHS and schools, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being genuinely staggered by her shameless arrogance. Essentially nicking Jeremy Corbyn’s message that the real divide in our country is not between Remainers and Leavers but between the many and the few, she was saying that parliament should approve her widely hated Brexit deal so that it can get on with the important business of debating the effects of Tory austerity.
Second, it is completely counterproductive in terms of securing votes for her deal. She is insulting the MPs whose votes she needs, many of whom are regularly receiving death threats and genuinely scared of their safety, as well as appalled by the PM’s tactics. It seems that May has lost sight of her own mission. Threat after threat, the approach she has taken so far hasn’t worked: we’re nine days away from the original exit date and the numbers still aren’t there to pass the deal.
The aim was certainly to distract everyone from the brutal dressing down she got during the emergency debate yesterday, which saw MPs from every party tear into the way she has led the Brexit process. There is no doubt that she didn’t want Dominic Grieve saying he had “never been more ashamed to be a Conservative” to be headline news, nor her PMQs responses to feature on the telly, strewn as they were with shouts of ‘resign’. But she could have changed tack, or at least not painted MPs as the enemy. Instead, Theresa May just had made meaningful vote three an even tougher task. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.