An open letter to the Prime Minister by Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, on how Theresa May can save her premiership.
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing this open letter to you on the eve of your Cabinet’s discussions on Brexit because of some notes I made as Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary in her terminal year – 1990. I told her that her worst enemy was her Tory MPs who were not very good at politics.
One whiff of electoral defeat reduces them to back-stabbing, gibbering wrecks bent on suicide.
So what’s new, you may well ask? You may also reasonably say this does not say much for your prospects since they ditched Thatcher after winning three elections.
In fact, I can make a case for your fighting and winning the next election provided you get this Brexit business out of the way soon.
It is so dominating and dividing politics that it is paralysing wider governance. This cannot go on.
Thatcher’s government may have ground to a halt in 1982 to fight the Falklands campaign but that crisis lasted only about 11 weeks. Brexit drags on interminably.
I think you have negotiated with Brussels in good faith and certainly made some concessions, though to little effect.
All you get is scorn from people who should know better – to wit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – and new demands, accompanied by threats, from the unelected EU Commission and its negotiator.
You have made clear to them what you and the British people require: a return to national sovereignty next year. They have dismally failed to make you an offer you cannot refuse.
The time has thus come to cut the Gordian knot. You need to tell the Cabinet today that you intend to make a calm, serious speech that puts the EU on warning: either they negotiate constructively and in good faith or, in little over a year, we leave lock, stock, barrel and with the £39bn you have conditionally offered. Remember, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
You should state that sovereignty means the right to run our own affairs without interference from Brussels or the European courts. Either they recognise that and act accordingly or we shall be off like a shot next spring.
You might also tell these arch-protectionists that in your books free trade means just that and applies to services as well as goods. We do not intend to be discriminated against.
This will not, of course, silence the Europhiles either in the Cabinet, on your back benches or in the Civil Service, which is looking ever more compromised. But at least they will know where they stand. You have had enough of this Brexit nonsense.
Surely, your MPs are not so dense as not to know that the British public abhors divided parties. You should tell them it is time to come together and make a success of independence.
You should then let loose your Brexit negotiators to reinforce the message: we are leaving and the EU had better sue for terms now or it will be too late.
This would not only clarify matters in the warped minds of so many on both sides of the Channel. It would also clear the way for action on so many aspects of British life that require close attention as well as the economy.
You should therefore tell the Cabinet that you intend to appoint high-powered and manifestly independent commissions to examine how to improve the NHS and social care, education, law enforcement and national defence, reporting no later than April next year. This will have the benefit of focusing minds in government departments that are currently diverted, bemused or idle because of Brexit.
Your explicit aim should be to put your government and party in a position to fight the next election with seriously thought-through policies.
Don’t forget that the British public, even now in the depths of your travail, see you as a better Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn and admire your guts and determination.
Your one overriding task is to ensure that Corbyn never imposes his totalitarian Marxism on the nation.
I believe that if you take a firm stance on Brexit now and show yourself seriously determined to improve life in Britain and its public services you will wipe the floor with him.
So, let’s cut the cackle and get down to the real business of re-equipping an independent, sovereign Britain for a glorious future.
Privately, you might also ask your backbenchers that, if that is what they want, too, they had better come on board PDQ. Otherwise, they will put their seats and Britain’s economy in peril.