Back in September 1992, the evening of Black Wednesday (or White Wednesday as many of us came to call it) when Britain crashed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, the then Prime Minister, John Major, called Kelvin Mackenzie the editor of The Sun and joshed: "Kelvin, I hope you're going to be kind to me in the paper tomorrow." "Well, Prime Minister," replied Kelvin, "I've got a bucket of shit sitting on my desk and on my front page tomorow, I'm going to pour it all over your head."
Let me channel my inner Kelvin Mackenzie, although I'll try to be a little more polite, because what I say below I say more in sorrow than anger.
On Newsnight on Friday I explained that I thought we were moving into the last weeks of Theresa May's premiership. When you look at every possible scenario of how things will play out over the next eighteen days, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that her days as PM are numbered.
If, in the unlikely event that she gets her deal through and we leave, as planned on 29 March, her work is done. No purpose is served by her continuing in office.
In the second scenario, that we leave with no deal, I can't imagine any Tory MP, right or left, would believe that Theresa May has the vision to lead us into the sunny uplands (or otherwise) of a post Brexit Britain. What is needed then is someone with a bit of vision and economic know-how.
In the third scenario where Article 50 is extended by something between one and two years, does anyone seriously think Theresa May is the person to lead the continuing negotiations with the EU? Thought not.
The only scenario in which it is possible to make a case for continuity is where Article 50 is extended for up to three months, to allow legislation to go through the Commons. But given the deal is still very unlikely to pass before 29 March, I'd say this scenario is very unlikely.
As I write this, we have just learned that tomorrow's Meaninful Vote may not happen and instead there will be yet another meaningless indicative vote on a 'wish list' potential deal, which has no chance of ever being agreed. This, despite the Prime Minister promising a Meaningful Vote at the dispatch box less than two weeks ago.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will honour these three commitments. If she doesn’t she will forfeit the confidence of the House of Commons.— Nick Boles MP (@NickBoles) March 11, 2019
Yvette Cooper has just said the PM has promised votes on no deal and extension whatever happens with the MV and believes they will be delivered this week.— Tamara Cohen (@tamcohen) March 11, 2019
Cooper says she doesn't believe "the PM would lie to us"
OK, circumstances change, and you could argue that there is no point in voting on something you know you're going to be defeated on - but this is Groundhog Day. That's why the original vote didn't take place in mid December, if you remember.
Rumours are swirling that instead of coming to the Commons this afternoon, the Prime Minister intends to send her human shield, the Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, instead. His body armour had better be pretty tough.
However, it's just been announced that Jeremy Corbyn has been granted an Urgent Question by The Speaker. Surely Theresa May is obliged to respond to that. She surely couldn't use the Comonwealth Service, which starts at 3pm, as an excuse to skip it... Could she?
Simon Covenay, the Irish Foreig Minister, has just announced that Theresa May is flying to Strasburg tonight. Nice to see how the Irish government is now making announcements on behalf of the UK! That's how bad things have got.
We are 18 days away from our supposed exit from the EU.
I have no clue on what basis we are now going to leave. The people of this country have no clue on what basis we're going leave. Perhaps, more importantly, business has no clue on what basis we're going to leave. This simply cannot go on.
Over the last two and a half years Theresa May has conducted a shambles of a Brexit negotiation. She's listened to the wrong people and has deployed the wrong tactics. Everything has been geared to short term, day to day, political management. There has been no strategy. Everything has been about appeasement - appeasing the various factions in her own party, and appeasing Brussels. She has been more successful in the latter than the former. The chickens are now inevitably coming home to roost.
Britain is on the brink of a national humiliation. It's not quite on the scale of Suez in 1956 or Norway in 1940, but it's not far off. Sometimes political leaders have to recognise that they have run out of road and it's time for someone else to take over. We all remember the words of Leo Amery in May 1940...
We cannot go on as we are. There must be a change... we cannot go on being led as we are. I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.
There are many Tory MPs, many Tory Association heads and many Tory Party members who will be mulling on those sentiments this week.
We all know the Prime Minister has clung to office like a limpet. There have been various occasions when her party and cabinet could have acted, but they chose not to.
It could have happened in the days after the disastrous 2017 election result. It could have happened last December, and probably several other occasions too. But the Cabinet's balls hadn't dropped.
Will this week prove to be the week the Cabinet factions unite and tell the Prime Minister that she may be 'First Among Equals' but she serves at their pleasure, not hers? The answer is probably not, but if she did what Margaret Thatcher did in 1990 and call them in one by one and they were to give her their honest opinions, would she really have the majority of her Cabinet supporting her? I doubt it very much.
There are four ways in which Theresa May could depart -
- Of her own volition
- The Cabinet could at last assert itself
- The men (and women) in grey suits would pay her a visit
- Large numbers of Tory MPs withdraw their support for government legislation.
Either way, I cannot think she will still be Prime Minister by the autumn, and she may be gone much sooner than that. If the Meaningful Vote really does take place and she loses the vote on by more than she lost last time (230 votes) she couldn't in all conscience stay on. Could she? Well, could she?
It may not be Tuesday's vote which is the crucial one. It could be Wednesday's vote which brings down the whole House of Cards. The Government motion will effectively read: "This Government supports a no deal Brexit". It won't be worded like that, of course, but that will be its effect.
At the moment we don't know if the Government will cave into demands from its own ministers to give a free vote. It would be preposterous if the vote wasn't whipped, given that it is actually government policy to leave on 29 March with no deal if one cannot be negotiated. But if it's a free vote, do we know how the Prime Minister will vote, or will she find a convenient subsequent engagement and arrange to be elsewhere? You'd like to think not, but anything is possible at the moment.
The Telegraph reported one minister last night saying...
I would say there are only two ministers in the Cabinet who still support her. Everyone else has lost faith in her ability to lead.
Presumably those two ministers are Karen Bradley and Chris Grayling. In normal circumstances you would add James Brokenshire, Brandon Lewis to that list, but I suspect both of them now realise events have moved on.
When Theresa May became leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister I genuinely believed she was the right person for the job. I believed that she could heal some of the bitter divisions from the referendum. I believed that the domestic agenda she outlined in Downing Street on her first day in office was genuinely exciting. Unfortunately, she has achieved very little on the domestic front, and instead of healing the wounds, has reopened them. Like so many others I feel incredibly disappointed at her woeful record.
People say, ah, but she's incredibly resilient, as if that can excuse the incompetence. It is, by the way, incredibly sexist, given that it's a word which I don't recall ever being used about a male prime minister.
I'm afraid we need a new Prime Minister and I'm pretty sure we'll be getting one sooner rather than later.
Enough is enough.
'Stick with nurse for fear of worse' might be a mantra which worked in the past, but it no longer cuts the mustard.
I can think of few of the leading candidates to replace Theresa May who would do a worse job. Well, OK, there are a couple, but they stand no chance of succeeding her.
Back in November 1990 Sir Geoffrey Howe concluded his resignation statement in the House of Commons thus...
The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long.
It's now up to cabinet ministers and Tory MPs to take matters into their own hands and decide for themselves what should happen now.
I'd like to think that if I were in their position I'd now have the balls to tell the Prime Minister what she needs to be told. That the game is up.