The Prime Minister's latest move on Brexit goes beyond awkward fumbling—refusing to ask for a longer extension is downright reckless, and puts the whole country at riskby Tom Clark / March 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
I’ve never loathed Theresa May. She doesn’t exude the callousness towards the weak of say, Margaret Thatcher, or ooze the sort of smarmy charm that made Clinton, Blair and Cameron grate so badly after a while. The one time I’ve met her one-to-one at a small drinks reception, what struck me was both how terrible she was at making small-talk, and how indifferent she was to this failing. That combination struck me as almost impressive. Her politics aren’t mine, but Clem Attlee would have been the same. It is the sort of failing you’d expect in someone who is focused on what is important, and doing what she thinks of as the right thing.
Over the years, I’ve avoided rushing to make personal judgments about her. Windrush? It was appalling, but the racist practices she presided over at the home office seemed to me to be bureaucratic and institutional, not personal. Calling an election after solemnly swearing not to? It was no more than an ordinary political porkie; any recent prime minister would have been capable of doing the same. Running away from Grenfell? I genuinely felt sorry for her as the world decided she had a heart of stone. I saw the no-show as a very characteristic case of political maladroitness and personal awkwardness, and even remember arguing to friends that I’d rather have a PM who was interested in working behind the scenes on getting the right relief in place, than making a show of wallowing in the grief.
What about the shambling Brexit process of these last three years? Like everyone I’ve looked on in despair, but have not rushed to point the finger of blame her way. In summer 2016 any prime minister, and especially any Remain-voting prime minister, would have inherited an almighty political mess. Her time in office was bound to be scrappy, because it was fated to be consumed by a project she had judged a mistake.
Whatever the most zealous Remainers might say, it was absurd to imagine that any PM could have turned round to the country and said that that the referendum was merely “advisory,” and that the advice was rejected. And if we were destined to push ahead, then I could see the logic of…