If history has any sense of wit, England will defeat Belgium in the World Cup in the same season that Prime Minister Theresa May’s disastrous government falls: The dual rebuke to Brussels would ring through the ages. No matter what happens in the soccer championship in Russia or the halls of Westminster, though, it’s become obvious that May is not the right person to lead Britain through Brexit.
“It is not clear whether what has been snuffed out is Theresa May’s Brexit plan or Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party,” wrote the venerable political journalist — and ardent Remainer — Robert Peston in a Facebook post earlier today. The latter possibility seems likely to follow from the former, but either way, recent days have provided a massive, well-earned comeuppance to the pathetic Mrs. May.
Two key advocates for Brexit in May’s cabinet — the leader of withdrawal talks, David Davis, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — have now resigned in the past two days, each registering disgust with May’s shambolic Brexit proposal for Britain to drop out of the European Union while allowing the E.U. to continue to regulate its goods. Committing to bow and scrape to the Eurocracy forever was, to put it mildly, not what 17 million Brexit voters had in mind. Davis, who had been pushing for a free-trade deal akin to the one the E.U. has with Canada, quit with a tangy resignation letter. Johnson, who had let it be known that he thought defending May’s proposal amounted to “polishing a turd,” wrote in an eloquent resignation missive of his own that “ [Brexit] is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”
Her breathtaking incompetence makes the gelatinous Cameron look like Henry V by comparison. When her autobiography is written, it should be published as a loose sheaf of unbound pages — no spine. That would make it inconvenient to read, but who would want to do so in the first place? Students of mediocrity?
May should have guessed that she couldn’t steamroll her party into co-signing this instrument of surrender, but a gift for miscalculation has proven to be one of her core attributes. Davis and Johnson’s plunge off the rudderless ship will presumably be followed by others, and one can only hope for an outright challenge to May’s leadership from a more enthusiastic Brexiteer such as the Tory party’s most articulate and forceful presence, MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Since the dramatic resignation of David Cameron two years ago, May’s term has been defined by a total inability to live up to her two best-known turns of phrase — “Brexit means Brexit” and “No deal is better than a bad deal.” She is the anti-Thatcher, a lady made for turning. Her breathtaking incompetence makes the gelatinous Cameron look like Henry V by comparison. When her autobiography is written, it should be published as a loose sheaf of unbound pages — no spine. That would make it inconvenient to read, but who would want to do so in the first place? Students of mediocrity?
Mrs. May’s contemptible “Chequers agreement,” hashed out Friday night at her country house, would give E.U. regulators the power to cover all British goods, with disputes to be settled in the European Court of Justice. As the notably vertebrate Tory backbencher Rees-Mogg writes in the Telegraph, “being outside the ECJ’s jurisdiction is therefore a phantasm, a set of words that means one thing but does another.” The idea of Britain’s being so regulated by an outside authority in which it would have no say is a travesty. And this is May’s opening bid! It beggars belief that the prime minister is even trying to sell such a nonstarter. As Johnson put it in his resignation letter:
The British government has spent decades arguing against this or that EU directive, on the grounds that it was too burdensome or ill-thought out. We are now in the ludicrous position of asserting that we must accept huge amounts of precisely such EU law, without changing an iota, because it is essential for our economic health — and when we no longer have any ability to inﬂuence these laws as they are made.
Rees-Mogg points out that the Chequers agreement is full of fuzzy-yet-sinister details — for instance, opposition to “vast” ongoing payments from the U.K. (Would merely large ones be fine?) It would be madness for Britain to continue to be regulated by the E.U. and to pay for the privilege of doing so, while having no vote in any of its decisions.
The anti-May forces do not yet have the numbers to oust her via a vote of no confidence. Indeed, at the moment they have not rounded up the necessary 48 members to trigger such a vote in the first place. But May doesn’t appear able to shepherd her Brexit deal through parliament, either. What then? The possibility of a no-deal Brexit — the very thing May once pushed as preferable to ceding sovereignty to Brussels — is rising. “No deal” means dangers for Britain, but it makes the E.U. nervous as well. Brandishing it would be a way for the U.K. to regain its negotiating position.
Unfortunately for the British people, their leader has made no serious preparation for this possibility. But as James Forsyth has argued in the Spectator, May could regain the initiative by appointing a “Secretary of State for No Deal,” who would in effect begin preparing the nuclear option. As with actual nuclear weapons, having them is not the same thing as using them, but lacking them is not a position of strength. “It’s evident that Britain is not currently prepared for a no deal scenario,” writes Forsyth. “There needs to be a massive push if the UK is to get itself anywhere near ready.”
The U.K. will leave the EU at 11 p.m. on the 29th of March. May has squandered 15 of the 24 allotted months. She inspires little loyalty from her allies and even less fear from her adversaries. Britain deserves a more effective leader in No. 10, someone who can credibly wield the threat of a no-deal Brexit. The sooner her blundering premiership ends, the better it will be for her party and country.