So, can Theresa May make us any more of a laughing stock?
- Credit: AP
It's been another tough week for Theresa May - Iain Dale says she's now turned the country into a complete joke
When I appeared on Radio 4's 'Any Questions' last week I described our government 'as the most shambolic administration since Lord North lost America'. A Tory MP for the region texted me afterwards and said: 'There's a perfectly respectable case that actually Lord North was not that bad…'. I'm afraid the same can't be said for Theresa May's government. Her Brexit negotiations have led to this country becoming an international laughing stock. I may have been critical of all governments down the years, but I can't remember actually being embarrassed by one.
Theresa May has now been reduced to holding a gun to rebel MPs' heads as the only way of persuading them to vote for her God-awful deal. She's given up on trying to use gentle persuasion and the force of argument, and resorted to bully-boy tactics. It's because, as a former female prime minister might have said, there is no alternative. And the tactic was starting to work. Hardline Brexiteers like Esther McVey were beginning to peel off and saying they would vote for Theresa May's deal if it were presented to the House of Commons for a third time. The reason? Because they finally realised that if the deal isn't agreed by 29 March – a week's time! – then they risk losing Brexit altogether.
And then The Speaker dropped his own bombshell and said he wouldn't allow a third Meaningful Vote unless there was something substantially different in the motion. He used parliamentary precedent to back up his argument, invoking examples as far back as 1604 where previous Speakers had done the same thing. And this, only weeks after telling MPs he didn't have to follow precedent and indeed would break it whenever he saw fit. There's a word for that and it begins with H.
Rather bizarrely, various hardline Brexiteers rejoiced in Bercow's decision. They piled on to the airwaves to declare that this made a 'no deal' Brexit more likely. MPs like Owen Paterson and Sir John Redwood were positively moist with excitement, failing to realise that the decision would aid those who want to delay Brexit and extend Article 50 for a long time, or it could scupper Brexit altogether. No wonder they're called 'The Woodentops'.
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Government supporting MPs, meanwhile, suspected Bercow was being political and living up to his wife's car sticker and was effectively sticking two fingers up to the Government and saying 'Bollocks to Brexit'. It was interesting that during his statement to the Commons he looked mainly at the Labour benches. Make of that what you will.
And then Theresa May made her disastrous statement on Wednesday evening, which alienated practically everybody, including MPs she was supposed to be charming into supporting her deal. Incredible.
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As you read this column Theresa May is in Brussels, no doubt receiving a ritual humiliation from her fellow EU leaders. You can hardly blame them. They are no doubt as perplexed that the country known as 'the mother of parliaments' has a government and a parliament which are hardly worthy of the names.
There are now four possible outcomes to this sorry mess. The first is that Theresa May tables an amended version of her deal next week, it squeaks through and Article 50 is extended until the end of May or June to allow legislation through the Commons. The second is that we leave next Friday with 'no deal' even though parliament passed a motion ruling that out. The third is that the EU agrees to a long extension of Article 50 by up to two years, and the fourth is that Theresa May revokes Article 50. If she did, it would be a total admission of failure and lead to her immediate resignation. She would go down in history as one of the worst prime ministers in history.
The fly in the ointment to a long extension to Article 50, which the EU could still offer at an emergency summit next Thursday in the event of the next Meaningful Vote being rejected, is that Theresa May has said she wouldn't stomach any extension beyond the end of June. If she backtracked on that, after everything else, surely she'd have to go.
Anyone who predicts what will happen over the next week is a fool. The only certainty is that the country's reputation will be further damaged.
Email Iain at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @iaindale