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Paul Vallely: Time is up for this Prime Minister

29 March 2019

Mrs May has consistently put party before country, says Paul Vallely


Theresa May leaves Parliament on Wednesday night

Theresa May leaves Parliament on Wednesday night

I HAVE changed my mind about Theresa May — four times, so far. At the outset, I thought her a decent woman who was not doing badly, given the poor cards that she had been dealt. Then the mistakes and errors of judgement began to pile up. Steadfast turned to stubborn — and, now, to downright shameless.

Her first error was to trigger Article 50 before she had any idea of what kind of exit Parliament wanted. That put a ticking time-bomb under the withdrawal negotiations, which harmed the UK more than the European Union. Then, she called an unnecessary General Election, in which she campaigned disastrously. Next, she put a series of Brexit hardliners, many of them clearly not competent, in charge of the negotiations.

Throughout, she persisted in seeing Brexit as primarily about immigration, even as the public switched focus to the negative economic implications of leaving. A poll of 200 polls shows that “the will of the people” switched to Remain in mid-2017. (It now stands at 54 per cent). Ignoring that, she repeatedly tried to appease the Brextremists on the right of her party.

Most disastrously, when she spectacularly failed to get her deal endorsed by the Commons — not once, but twice — she persisted in her blinkered determination to drag MPs to the deadline when they would have no alternative but to agree to what she wanted.

Twice she should have realised that the time had come to change tactics, abandon the Tory ultra-Brexiteers, and reach across the aisle in search of consensus moderate Labour MPs. As Einstein reportedly said, repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness.

To cap it all came her populist public broadcast in which, like some Poundland Donald Trump, she tried — not just ill-advisedly but recklessly — to present herself as the Tribune of the People against Parliament.

But what turned bad judgement into bad faith, for me, was the growing evidence that Mrs May has consistently been prioritising the unity of the Conservative Party over the good of the nation.

A shocking article in The Times this week by the well-informed political commentator Rachel Sylvester disclosed that senior civil servants had, highly unusually, been writing official minutes to make clear that discussion in Cabinet had repeatedly focused on the preservation of the Conservative Party. When the inevitable public inquiry into Brexit happens, they want it to be clear that the problem lay with politicians, who repeatedly ignored civil-service warnings about economic crisis, security concerns, and the threats of Irish unification and Scottish independence.

Lord Kerr, a former head of the Foreign Office, and Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service, both say publicly that holding the Party together is now the Prime Minister’s primary concern — and that the interests of the Tory Party “are not necessarily the same as the interests of the country”. One of the most recent government ministers to resign accused Mrs May of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods” of the British people.

When the House of Commons voted to seize control of the Brexit agenda, Mrs May responded by saying that she would not necessarily implement what MPs voted for. It is time for the Conservative Party to elect a leader who will.

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