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No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit

Theresa May’s prime ministership remains one of torment, drawn out, and weakened daily. But does it really matter? If it is true to claim that people deserve the government they elect, then there is something madly representative of the debacle of May’s leadership, one where problems are sought for any possible solutions.

Steering through the waters of Brexit has been a nigh impossible task rendered even more problematic by a stubborn myopia nursed by May. She nurses dogmas incapable of learning new tricks. Her latest Brexit plan, as it headed to inevitable defeat, would have rendered Britain bound to the EU in a manner more servile than any sovereign populist would have dreamed. Benefits would have been shed; obligations would have persisted. While there is very little to recommend the views of the rabid Tory Eurosceptics, there is something in the idea that Britain would become a vassal state.

As it transpired, May lost by a colossal margin, an indication that few could stomach her vision: 432 to 202, the worst defeat by a British administration in over a century. “In all normal circumstances,” observed Robert Peston, that legendary pessimist of matters economic, “a Prime Minister would resign when suffering such a humiliation on their central policy – and a policy Theresa May herself said today would ‘set the future of this country for a generation’.”

Such is the nature of the climate: gross failure results in bare survival rather than inevitable annihilation. Grand acts of quixotic behaviour are not richly punished but given reprieve before the next charge against windmills. So we are left with the idea of uncharted territory, suggesting, in the face of such chaos and uncertainty, a postponement of the departure date from the EU set for March 29. The Article 50 period, in other words, would have to be extended, but this, again, implies a set of hypothetical variations and ponderings.

For all that, May survived yet another no-confidence motion by 325 to 306, with Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn incapable of pushing the entire debacle to an election. Not even the Tories wished that upon their own leader, whom they have come to despise in ways verging on the pathological. Corbyn might well have called the May prime ministership a “zombie” administration, but he had failed to supply the necessary weapons to finish it off, prompting colleagues in the Commons to suggest a change of approach.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, advanced the proposition that the Labour leader had to alter “his position and come behind the ‘People’s Vote’ or he will just be seen, and will be, a handmaiden of Brexit.”

Despite the failure, Corbyn had his own demands. “The government must remove clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal exit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that.” The language of cross-party lines on discussing Brexit remain distant matters.

As for the zombie representative-in-chief herself, the government would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”. Same words, barely touched up – the May formulae remains incapable of changing form, incapable of elevation, but also seemingly incapable of perishing.

Wednesday’s vote of survival after the calamity of her defeated proposals suggested a change in heart from May. (Did she have any other choice?) She ventured talks with various opposition party leaders, though various news outlets in the UK insisted that Corbyn had been ungenerous in snubbing the prime minister. Labour’s leadership remains sceptical at any advances from Downing Street. As The Guardian editorialised on May’s proposed talks, “It is a welcome shift in tone, but there is no indication from Mrs May’s record that she has the diplomatic skills required to make such a consultation fruitful.” This notable lack manifested in an obsession with “red lines”, a mad faith in a Brexit plan long rendered cadaverous.

For the paper’s own worth, a new strategy of change focused on a customs union arrangement between Britain and the EU would “transform dialogue with Labour and pro-European Tories.” Fine thing to suggest, but the darkness refuses to abate. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, for one, sees such a union as a way of ensuring that Britain will not have an independent trade policy. The ship of apocalypse, whatever it might entail, remains on course.

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  1. Bronte ALLAN

    Whilst not a pom, do not live in he UK. & do not fully understand all the ramifications of this brexit, it seems to me that the country is between a rock & a hard place. The no vote was only just the winner in the referendum, but I reckon even a lot of them would be having second thoughts about this schemozzle! The yes vote only just lost, but it appears there are some who think now that they should have voted no. The whole sad & sorry saga will not end very well for anybody or even for the UK. And who really knows how any of this will affect Australia? Great article Dr Kampmark!

  2. DrakeN

    Honour amongst thieves?

    Not in the current political climate; neither in the UK nor in this country.

  3. helvityni

    “The lady’s not for turning” said Margaret Thatcher about herself…

    I say: ‘Theresa May is a very plucky woman’.

    Stern women those two Tory Ladies….

  4. josephus

    Terrible dilemma May finds herself in. The EU cannot proffer a deal that allows the UK an easy Brexit ie that it can keep the benefits while avoiding the costs, because several other EU member states are turning populist- nationalist too. Brussels cannot allow this precedent to encourage others to think they have found the magic pudding.

    The EU has its faults. Its collective though variegated attitude to refugees bodes ill for its generous post war foundations. Internal borders crumple while external borders are policed, Germany being the one exception in the recent past.

    Everyone knows that once climate refugees are on the move then migrants will unfurl their desperate citizens upon the EU and elsewhere, in numbers that will dwarf even those that flee those vile regimes that at present compel their dissenters and minorities to leave in leaky boats.

    In 1992 the BBC showed on TV a dystopian mockumentary imagining a large European bloc in 2015 that is being overrun with millions of starvelings from the south. It prefigured melting snows up in the Arctic and an impending confrontation between the USSR and the US over access to resources there. But even the BBC could not foresee the collapse of the Soviet empire!

    Perhaps the European empire is set to weaken further . The chaos that is Brexit can only deepen the crisis.

  5. paul walter

    May, like Cameron and Osborne before her, is a serial self-involved neoliberal and tax dodger…where is the authoritas for leadership with such shrivelled- up detritus?

    Europe has become a problem that defies solution.

    May and the hard right are myopic and interested only in salvaging something for themselves to do with maintenance of the old class status quo. May and Tories are so much like Morrison here, now concerned only with dragging others down with them on their retreat to feudalism..

    And she appears to have succeeded, wedging Labour as its politicians begin to quarrel over the feasibility of a second referendum and Europe gets nasty as to the implementation of Brexit for the maximum harm to the UK.

    No sign of compromise from Europe either. It would suit many there, even more disintegration of a Civil Society in the UK, this leading to more race politics and break up in previously functional nations in Europe as the masses fight over a rapidly declining supply of social resources and jobs, divided and conquered as in the UK.

    Seems to me that Germany and her allies are the winners out of it and I don’t think they want compromise because they are better off without Britain for reasons obvious to their commercial classes. Is it delayed revenge for WW2, as the tables turn?

  6. mark delmege

    I’m no fan of May but her task is near impossible. There are entirely good reasons for a Brexit. Though there are entirely good reasons also for staying. Germany and France have no interest is allowing anyone to leave cos they benefit most. Aspirants like Serbia should consider their positions carefully. Losing ones currency is to give up sovereignty (something the UK avoided). Worse they will find themselves tied to NATO and sanctions against Russia – something they have no wish to do.
    Corbyn has as far as I understand been a long time doubter. His path is no easier than Mays. Taking a side in this debate is not as easy as many suggest.

  7. Andrew Smith

    Journalist for the Irish Times Fintan O’Toole had commented that most Brexit protagonists neither understand the Irish border issue nor consequences (for NI/RofE) of Brexit.

    Further, he suggested that Cameron should have consulted with Irish on how to do a referendum. This includes detailed and publicly available briefing notes, presentation of potential scenarios and a threshold on turnout (it seems to be back to front how referendum has been used).

    Otherwise, it may be viewed as simple ideological PR and politicking power games.

  8. paul walter


    You’d laugh if it wasn’t so tragic.

    Used to love Rowson’s caricatures of Chipping Norton setters Osborne and Cameron in the Guardian, who had so sucked up to Murdoch, Rebecca Brooks and others of the Thatcherite ascendancy of a decade ago.

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