Bernard Ingham: Blame Bercow, Corbyn and disloyal Tories for dog’s breakfast Brexit - not Theresa May

Theresa May has been dealt a difficult hand on Brexit, says Bernard Ingham. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Theresa May has been dealt a difficult hand on Brexit, says Bernard Ingham. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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Now that – to Parliament’s utter disgrace – both Brexit and the Prime Minister seem to be on their last legs, I am often asked what Margaret Thatcher would have done. I have no satisfactory answer.

It is idiotic to assert what she would have done when she has been dead for six years after suffering from dementia. Nor can I say with confidence what the decisive Thatcher would have done at her peak.

Certainly, long before her resignation she had had her fill of the European Community, as it then was.

She also told it in Bruges in 1988 that it was going badly wrong in trying to build Europe into a single nation state. But she never once told me she wanted to leave.

I think she would have striven might and main to turn Brussels away from ever more integration and go for a looser and wider group of sovereign member-states.

Our ignominious exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 justified her opposition to joining it until she ran out of political options.

I am also pretty certain she would have been appalled at the dire – and dangerous – consequences for the southern states of Europe of a single currency.

This is not to mention Europe’s failure to finance its defence properly and in effect to contract it out to the USA and the UK through NATO.

But would she have called a referendum as David Cameron did?

I doubt it, having spent years dismissing referenda as the tool of dictators.

I think she would have battled to bring France and Germany, the mainsprings of integration, to their senses.

What she would have done if they just ignored her is the unanswered – and unanswerable – question.

It is against this background, Tony Blair’s decade of crawling in Brussels and the people’s “No” in the 2016 referendum that we have to judge Mrs May.

She inherited a party split by Europe – a split that partly caused Mrs Thatcher’s resignation in 1990 despite still commanding a huge majority in the Commons – even though its 2017 manifesto pledged to leave the EU.

It is far easier to contrast the personalities of PM Thatcher with PM May.

Euro-summits would have been noisier and more strenuous under Thatcher who was a charismatic battleaxe swinging a handbag.

She may well have revelled in being in a minority of one, knowing she was right – as events have proved.

She also had the gift of the gab whereas Mrs May is not very quick on her feet and seems to bore everyone to tears.

At least one EC leader – Helmut Schmidt – fell asleep on Mrs Thatcher, though not, I think, out of boredom but as a defence mechanism.

But who is – or was – the more stubborn?

Who pursued her ends more resolutely, bearing in mind Mrs Thatcher’s pragmatism?

Here I think you have to take your hat off to Mrs May. She may be as uncommunicative as Clement Attlee and soporific in her demeanour. But she is relentless in pursuit of a Brexit which she thinks is in the national interest.

While Mrs Thatcher’s Tory Party was split on Europe, her Opposition not exactly helpful and the EU awkward, things are infinitely worse now.

Remember, she failed to secure the necessary supermajority in her terminal leadership contest by a mere four votes.

Her Tory Party was like a vicarage tea-party compared with Mrs May’s orgy of posturing.

Mrs May may have made mistakes, though not many jibbed at her calling a general election to strengthen her position two years ago in view of her lead in the opinion polls. And all those clamouring for her to go now have done nothing to help her succeed.

It is all very well blaming her for the mess when British politics is in an exceptional state of chaos.

This dog’s breakfast owes everything to the rank disloyalty of a tribalist Tory Party, the travesty of a Jeremy Corbyn Opposition, the outrageous bias of Speaker Bercow and a vindictiveness in Europe that actually advertises its weakness, not its strength.

It is a vain individual who claims he – or anybody else – could have done better than Mrs May in seeking to deliver an agreed Brexit rather than an acrimonious departure from the EU.

It becomes foolish to hound her out of office when you look at the likely succession. Who could be guaranteed to do better than her?

And she is infinitely to be preferred to Corbyn. Just look at our economic performance – and freedom of speech.