Premium

Every day that Mrs May clings on makes things harder for successor. She has to go now

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London on May 15, 2019, ahead of the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) 

It’s now beyond time for the Prime Minister to accept that the game is up. Her premiership has failed, and her authority is shot. She has lost control of her ministers, who are clamouring to replace her. She has lost her MPs, who feel betrayed and misled. In June, the Conservative voluntary party will declare no confidence in her as its leader.

In the local elections earlier this month, she lost almost 1,300 councillors. In the farcical European elections next week, she will win as few as one in 10 votes. In the Peterborough by-election – held to replace a jailed Labour MP – she will surely lose.

The reason for this Conservative collapse is not complicated. The Prime Minister promised repeatedly that Brexit would mean Brexit. She said “no deal is better than a bad deal.” And yet, three years after the referendum, she has failed to get Britain out of the European Union.

She described the deal she sought in her Lancaster House speech, Article 50 letter, and election manifesto. We would take back control of our laws, borders and money, and pursue an independent trade policy. “We will not have truly left the European Union,” she said, “if we are not in control of our own laws.” But this is not what her deal delivers. According to European officials, it leaves us a “colony”, or, in the Prime Minister’s own words, stuck in “permanent political purgatory”. By her own logic, then, this is a bad deal. But now she says no deal was only better than a bad deal “in the abstract.”

In cabinet, she complains that Brexit has been reduced to binary choices. But leaving the EU – freeing ourselves of its laws and institutions – is a binary choice, and a choice already made by the British people. This is something she once accepted. When ministers and officials proposed what she dismissed as “clinging to bits of the EU we liked”, she used to relish reprimanding them. We would negotiate a close economic and security relationship, she explained, but we would be entirely outside EU laws and institutions. In other words, the choice was binary.

Now the Government wants to introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. So ugly are its contents, it remains unpublished. But when it is finally unveiled, we will see, in black and white, legislation that subordinates a supposedly independent Britain to European laws and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We will be legislating for a deal that, according to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek minister, “a nation signs only after having been defeated at war.”

It might seem odd that the Government is planning to legislate for a deal that has already been rejected three times by the Commons. But ministers have little idea what else to do. And introducing the Bill might help the Prime Minister to stave off demands to announce her resignation date. When the 1922 Committee asks her to go, she can say she will do so once Parliament has voted for her deal. This is, of course, wishful thinking. The only conceivable way the Bill can succeed is if Labour lets it pass its second reading, and amends it in its later stages.

This means the Prime Minister is putting forward legislation she believes will be amended to include a customs union, or worse still, a second, rigged, referendum designed to keep Britain in the EU after all. But it is just as likely that Labour will vote down the Bill and prolong the Tory agony.

This agony is the direct consequence of the Prime Minister’s ruthless defiance of her party. Vote for my deal, she keeps saying, with a metaphorical gun against the Tory head, or the party gets it. But if her deal passed, the party would “get it” just as surely. Failing to deliver Brexit – a true Brexit – risks killing the Conservatives for good.

Tragically, it needn’t be like this. If the Prime Minister had delivered a meaningful Brexit, she could have kept her party largely together and retained DUP support. She could have threatened Parliament as she now threatens her own MPs: vote for this true Brexit, she could have said, or face the electorate you betrayed.

Instead, she negotiated a Brexit deal she knew her party opposed and which commanded no Commons majority. She ran down the clock and refused to seek alternative arrangements to the deal’s most contentious clauses. As a result she unleashed the Brexit Party, which without dramatic change will consign the Conservatives to opposition.

It is not yet clear who her successor should be, nor what they would do. But that is not the point. The Prime Minister’s Brexit plan has failed, and she has no alternative. Every day wasted from here makes life harder for whoever leads Britain into the future. We need to end this national humiliation, deliver Brexit, and save the Tories. The Prime Minister, I am sorry to say, must do her duty and stand aside.