Theresa May’s departure shows the darkest days still lie ahead

, by Madelaine Pitt

Theresa May's departure shows the darkest days still lie ahead
Theresa May leaving 10 Downing Street in 2017. Photo: Number 10 / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“This has got to be May’s last week,” is possibly the most over-used phrase in the history of the English language. In Westminster, in newsrooms, in pubs, on Twitter, pundits, journalists, friends, activists and members of the Tory party have been repeating it to each other since last October. Despite their increasing levels of conviction, May had resisted all demands for her ousting, like a determined spider scuttling for cover under your wardrobe.

The sword has finally fallen (or the cup and newspaper, if you enjoyed the spider analogy). The political pressure she has been under must be something akin to an avalanche over a teapot. And yet it is no political game which finally polished off the haggard May, but the reality of trying to deliver the undeliverable. The Brexit promoted all along by the extremists of her party into whose arms she woefully fell is nothing but a toxic fantasy from which Britain refuses to wake. May was just a sticking plaster after their car crash. Pretending she was helping, but only covering up the wounds.

May has been unutterably catastrophic. She triggered Article 50 without having the least clue of what form Brexit would take, a flippant gamble that we could figure out how to disentangle our political, economic and legal structures and agree the entire future of our relationship with Europe (and the world) in a grand total of two years.

She tried to shield the outcome of the negotiations from parliamentary scrutiny, battling Gina Miller all the way to the Supreme Court before conceding that no, the government could not force through a deal without legislative approval. She single-handedly and arbitrarily interpreted the result of the referendum as being a cry to leave the single market and was therefore solely responsible for all of the red lines which hobbled the progress of the negotiations and were a huge factor in the miserable result.

She did not bother to consult the opposition parties to try to find what kind of deal Parliament would support, but pandered to the extremes of her party in an attempt to superglue it back together. I will never forgive her for labelling EU citizens who have built their lives and careers in our country as ‘queue jumpers’, a despicable nationalist slur worthy of the disbanded BNP. And let’s not forget that cringe-worthy dance on to the stage at the Conservative Party conference.

She is possibly the worst Prime Minister in our history. And yet I have always hoped she would stay.

With Theresa May in power, we would more quickly be confronted with the reality; it is not her, but the impossibility of what she is trying to achieve, which is the crux of the problem. Of course, it could be the opposite; a change in leadership, and still no solution to the unsolvable riddle, could shed some light on the situation. Yet still I wish she could stay, because all possible alternatives are much, much worse.

“The extra bitter kick in the teeth is that Britain’s fate will be sealed by a leader whom only Tory members can vote for”

Despite her infamous claims of no deal being better than a bad deal, I do not doubt her belief that No Deal must be avoided. Those elbowing each other in the queue for Downing Street have few such qualms.

The sorry string of candidates includes Boris Johnson, a man bloated with his own self-importance whose verbal clumsiness occasionally masks his regular untruths, and who is currently under investigation by a private court about deliberately misleading the public during the referendum campaign. It includes Dominic Raab, a former Brexit secretary so incompetent that he quit over the deal he himself helped negotiate. It includes Esther McVey, who resigned from the cabinet to protest May’s deal and who has shown about as much understanding of how the EU works as your average grasshopper. It will probably include Michael Gove, a pompous figurehead of the Vote Leave campaign who still wallows in its lies, and whose reforms and cuts have badly damaged our health services.

Cocooned in their own excessive privilege and wrapped up in their endless dreams of power, all of the likely candidates are far more likely than Theresa May to drive Britain over a cliff-edge into a no deal, even if only by sheer incompetence.

The extra bitter kick in the teeth is that Britain’s fate will be sealed by a leader whom only Tory members can vote for. Theresa May at least ended up fighting a general election to continue acting on our behalf, yet just 100,000 people will decide who becomes our next Prime Minister. This, decidedly, is the state of democracy in twenty-first century Britain.

When a hardcore Brexiteer inevitably ends up with the keys to Number 10, it will be confirmation Britain and the Tories have not come to terms with the fact that the Brexit we were promised is not only unpopular but undeliverable. Leave voters curse Theresa May for keeping us trapped in rudderless limbo. Her potential successors and the right-wing press are happy to keep stuffing the lie down our throats that it’s her fault; maybe they even believe it. As they do so, we will keep avoiding the unpalatable truth; Brexit is a bad idea and will hurt us all. The darkest days of this ongoing nightmare still lie ahead.

People joke that June was always going to mean the end of May. But I for one wish she could stick around a little longer.

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