By resigning as Prime Minister but remaining party leader, May could ease a transition—and maybe even end her party's Brexit deadlockby Peter Kellner / March 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
The solution to Parliament’s immediate Brexit crisis may lie in recalling another crisis eight decades ago, and applying Mark Twain’s dictum that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
The parallel in question concerns the build-up to Neville Chamberlain’s resignation as Prime Minister in May 1940. With the papers speculating on Mrs May’s imminent downfall, it’s worth asking whether the two sagas might continue to rhyme.
On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain returned to London from meeting Hitler in Munich and declared he had assured “peace in our time.” His words, delivered on the steps of 10 Downing Street, were greeted enthusiastically, especially by the Conservative Party and the pro-Tory press.
On October 2, 2016, in her first speech to the Conservative Party conference as Prime Minister, Mrs May said: “Brexit means Brexit.” Her words were greeted enthusiastically, especially by the Conservative Party and the pro-Tory press.
On May 7, 1940, Chamberlain opened the Norway debate in the House of Commons. British troops had failed in their attempt to save Norway from German occupation. The Prime Minister argued that, despite the disappointments, the campaign had had some success, for German troops had suffered much greater losses than allied forces. The problem was not that his strategy had failed, but that many MPs had had unrealistic expectations about what the allied forces could achieve. He would rejig the Cabinet and carry on the fight against Hitler.
Last Wednesday, Mrs May spoke to the nation from 10 Downing Street. She argued that, despite the disappointments over her Brexit negotiations with Brussels, the fault lay not with her but with the inability of MPs to make a clear choice about the way forward. She would adjust her tactics and carry on the fight for Brexit.
In the days after Chamberlain’s speech, Conservative MPs started to rise against him. Some with great military experience—such as Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes—blamed him for the debacle.
The former Cabinet minister, Leo Amery, ended his speech with a quote from Oliver Cromwell: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
In the days following Mrs May’s broadcast, Conservative MPs queued up to demand…