Andrew Vine: 1,000 days of Brexit misery that prove Theresa May must go

Theresa May has made many mistakes over Brexit, argues Andrew Vine. Picture: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Theresa May has made many mistakes over Brexit, argues Andrew Vine. Picture: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Have your say

Tomorrow marks 1,000 days since Britain voted to leave the EU. How that vote would have turned out if the electorate had any inkling of what was to follow is debatable.

Of all the possible outcomes, those that could not have been imagined by voters for either leave or remain is that the Government would cease to function,

or the Prime Minister be cruelly exposed as not up to the job.

But that is what has happened, and it does not bode well for Britain however this tortured process turns out.

The now-familiar round of cajoling and threats to try to corral enough votes to get Theresa May’s deal through the Commons continued all day yesterday, ahead of her attendance at the EU summit later this week.

What a way to run a Government. No strategy, no long-term planning, just a desperate day-to-day struggle to stave off the next crisis or Parliamentary ambush.

It was a measure of how low this Prime Minister has sunk that she even resorted at the weekend to accusing those who harbour doubts about her deal of being unpatriotic. No, Prime Minister, this isn’t about any lack of patriotism. On the contrary, the patriotic thing for MPs to do is ensure Britain’s welfare by questioning whether the deal on the table is in the country’s best interests, not nodding it through.

Whatever deal is eventually done – whether by the end of this month, or after a delay in Brexit – it is now impossible to have any faith in either the Government, or Mrs May, to set Britain on a course for a prosperous future.

This is a wreck of an administration, without purpose, unity or any sense of direction beyond clinging to power, brought about by a toxic combination of an obstinate Prime Minister incapable of reaching out to others and a Tory party which has suffered a collective nervous breakdown.

In every respect, the Government is rudderless. It would be wholly inaccurate to say that Mrs May is in charge. She is not. Collective responsibility has broken down, with Cabinet Ministers effectively voting against the Government with no fear of being sacked because the Prime Minister is so weak.

Mrs May has been found wanting in every area since Britain voted for Brexit in 2016. She failed to set out clear objectives and triggered the process of leaving without knowing what she was negotiating for.

Hers was always going to be the most difficult of hands to play, but how epically badly she has done so is breathtaking. If there has been a mistake to make, she has unhesitatingly made it, in the misguided belief that she, and only she, knows best.

Mrs May boxed herself in unnecessarily with arbitrary “red lines” that left too little room for manoeuvre, kept the Cabinet and Parliament in the dark over what she was doing, and failed to build consensus with the EU or within her own party.

Worse, she ignored the fact apparent on the morning after the referendum that the divisions sowed by the Brexit debate needed to be healed as a matter of urgency, and that politicians of all parties and the people needed to be united for the sake of Britain’s future.

Instead, she created further discord by refusing to engage with any of the opposition parties, preferring to concentrate on appeasing the right wing of her own.

The shambles of the past week has been the consequence. Her only answer to Parliament inflicting two humiliating defeats over her Brexit deal is to bring it back yet again, as if waging a one-woman war of attrition on MPs is a coherent strategy rather than the reality of a damagingly inflexible politician

devoid of ideas.

Any realistic Premier would have accepted that the proposed deal was dead. Yet Mrs May’s response has been to horse-trade with the European Research group and the DUP, attempting to buy them off in return for support.

How can this possibly result in a Brexit deal acceptable across the political spectrum?

It is a recipe for yet more division, sowing the seeds of problems in the future and fracturing our politics – and by extension, our whole society – still further. However this all turns out, it is inconceivable that Mrs May is the right person to build a sensible, mutually productive relationship with the EU, which this country must have if it is

to thrive.

The EU is a peculiarly unloveable beast, bloated, arrogant and inefficient, which is at least partly why 52 per cent of those who voted in the referendum opted to leave. Yet Mrs May has achieved something remarkable in her ham-fisted negotiations – to make the EU look grown-up and reasonable whilst the Government has thrashed about like a child throwing a tantrum.

A thousand days gone, and no sign of anything other than a thousand more of uncertainty for Britain.