THERESA May’s emergency address to the nation last night from 10 Downing Street was intended to reassure voters over Brexit. Yet the PM’s position is now so invidious that she could offer no credible assurances exactly 1,000 days after the country voted to leave the EU.
No clarity over what happens next, no clarity over what she intends to tell EU leaders and no clarity over the timing of any new votes on her Brexit deal just over a week before the country is supposed to be leaving the European Union.
Regrettably she is a Prime Minister in name only, her authority even more diminished after her attempt to extend Article 50 until the end of June received a sceptical response from an exasperated European Union as the Government again appeared to teeter on the brink of collapse. This is, frankly, deeply humiliating for a leader who has previously told MPs on 108 occasions that the UK would be leaving the EU on March 29.
In fairness Mrs May acknowledged that this was a “matter of great personal regret” and she enjoys more support with the general public, and respect from EU leaders, than she does from many of her so-called colleagues at Westminster.
She also appeared to make this a resignation issue, saying that she was not prepared “to delay Brexit any further than June 30” because this would mean the UK having to vote in forthcoming European Parliament elections.
And while Mrs May tried to strike a defiant tone as she travels to Brussels for an EU summit, her words sounded hollow as she put the onus back on MPs, in one last throw of the proverbial political dice, to back her Withdrawal Agreement at the third time of asking - even though the Speaker has cast doubt on the legal validity of this.
As she tried to draw strength from the authority which leaders usually derive from the Downing Street lectern, and portray herself as a defender of the people, the irony is decisions on dates now depend on the dates of decisions which are out of her control.
All this while there are increasing calls for Mrs May to step aside from all those MPs who, fairly or unfairly, blame her for this deadlock as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn walked out of cross-party talks because he objected to the presence of his former MP Chuka Umunna, head of the newly-formed Independent Group.
And as Westminster descended into turmoil over whether Mrs May should have sought a short or long-term extension of Article 50, or simply sanctioned a no-deal Brexit that takes effect next Friday, it was left to the PM to recognise the deep harm being caused to families, public services, jobs, investment, national prestige and democracy itself.
With Westminster becoming more deadlocked by the hour, and Europe’s elite losing patience, the UK’s best hope appears to be for Brussels to give Parliament one final chance to get its house in order and for MPs to accede to this. If not, the resulting political, economic and social upheaval will make this week’s events look inconsequential in comparison. And this before a change of Prime Minister, and resulting uncertainty and upheaval, is factored into the Brexit equation.