At this time our thoughts turn to Theresa May’s bunker, which we politely do not name Untergang but cannot put the word out of mind. The scenes from that film are etched on the mind: the soldiers and functionaries are as polite and dutiful as ever, but the Soviet artillery is now creeping up to the bunker under the Reich Chancellery. Other high-ranking officials in the regime are competing for the rights of succession to the leader’s title. It is all but over.
And now consider the real-time situation of Theresa May. Her flagship policy, the Withdrawal Agreement, which has to be voted on in the Commons, was put on hold when it became clear that the Commons would not support it. No date has yet been announced for that Meaningful Vote. Instead, May flew off—yet again—to Brussels, to plead for some concessions. This was always doomed. She went rattling her begging bowl to the EU, which would never throw her a bent kopek. Their policy has always been to fix May in the Admiral Byng role, shot, as Voltaire said, pour encourager les autres. The EU has no interest whatsoever in seeing the UK make a success of Brexit. And this is now confirmed by the latest EU refusal to give an inch to May in its final position. The encouragement is absolute.
Parliament must decide May’s fate within a few weeks at most. Here, there might be glimmers of hope for her: in the vote of no confidence, she got 200 votes of support from the Conservative Party in the Commons, with 117 against. But this is delusionary. As Jacob Rees-Mogg pointed out, 163 of the 200 votes for May are on the Government payroll. They are house-carls. The bulk of those MPs not so favored voted against her and have no reason to change their minds. Two Prime Ministers in modern times were unseated in a Westminster vote, Chamberlain and Thatcher. Both won a majority, and both realized that the vote against them was so significant that the Government could not carry on. And the threat of a general election, which would be mortal to the Conservative Party, has no force: to set aside the fixed-term Parliament law, two thirds of the Commons must vote for that motion. The Conservative Party has many flaws but it is not a death cult. Theresa May, the expert in delay tactics, is shortly to acknowledge “in delay there lies no plenty.”
Ralph Berry writes from England.