Eight Days to Go: What the Fuck Is Going On with Brexit?
Theresa May addressed the nation yesterday to say that the mess is everyone's fault but hers.
Theresa May in Parliament yesterday, (screengrab via parliamentlive.tv)
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Last night, a beloved Prime Minister stood in front of the nation and delivered a speech for the ages. She revealed to us something shocking: that it was MPs who were wicked; that she was blameless. The disease tearing British Democracy limb from limb, the meat grinder blobbing us all into misshapen patties of hate, is MPs who do not do agree with Theresa May’s Draft Agreement.
Happily, there was a solution, Mrs May informed us. These so-called "MPs" could back her deal. Or they could destroy Britain. The choice was theirs.
Having given us the down-low happily, the PM’s speech ended on an up note. Everything would be just fine. So long as everyone did exactly what she said.
And with that, the Prime Minister strode away from the lectern, back to Lalaland, where the squirrels had arranged a tea party for her, with Sir Winston Churchill, Eleanor Rigby and Vincent Van Gogh, inside a jellicle cave, in a toadstool, made of cream cheese, in space.
No matter what music you play underneath clips of May’s speech – one clip of her walking off to the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme was circulating on Twitter – it doesn’t capture any feeling other than incipient dread. The "Hallelujah Chorus"? Creeping unease. "Agadoo"? Feels like Throbbing Gristle doing a set in a strobe-lit abattoir. The Very Best Of Carly Rae Jepsen? Like the sound of babies being tortured with wood planes.
The surrealist Premiership goes on. And as time is no longer linear, but curved, it goes on in a loop – an infinite Möbius strip of the PM saying the same thing, doing the same thing. Yesterday afternoon, there was the PMQs session. The white heat of national crisis was again transformed into an unfocused consideration of various options that had all long since run out of road.
Nothing. Has. Changed. We know this. We’ve always known this. And it is almost comforting now, to be sat inside this bubble of surreal constancy. Perhaps there will come a time when "nothing has changed" has changed. Who knows? Best not to dwell upon that dim distant telepathy. We’re all safe now.
By linear time, we now have eight days left. But zero options to consider. We have a few straws to clutch. Maybe it’s easiest to first rehearse the things that are off the table.
As May pointed out yesterday at PMQs, Parliament had been asked to indicate all sorts of things lately. Her Deal? It said no. Twice, and loudly. No Deal? No, thanks. Corbyn’s Plan? Voted down. Second Ref? Obliterated. The techie’s favourite “Malthouse Compromise Part B”? Sorry, still no. All possible futures have been rejected by Parliament, and now John Bercow has sealed off her exit by stopping a third Meaningful Vote. None of this is about to change.
Yesterday brought the click of another door being locked behind us. Brussels – rightly terrified that Britain contesting EU elections on the 23rd of May will destabilise an EU Parliament in which we’d have the third-largest number of seats – declared that we can only have a short extension of 55 days. There is still a glimmer of hope for a long extension. But it comes with the same issue – if we continue in Europe at this febrile moment, we will elect nothing but rank populists, and proceed to smash up every institution when we again pull the ripcord.
Besides, as the PM herself put it to Parliament: “a long extension means this house contemplating its navel on Europe all over again”. But then, so does a short extension. If nothing has changed, then by the First Law Of Thermodynamics, nothing can change. The ERG are on course for their preferred outcome. We leave on the 29th of March, unless Parliament has the gumption to directly overrule the Referendum by revoking Article 50, and have you seen these snivellers lately? Labour support? After all, the gun she has pointed at her own MPs’ heads could equally apply to an Opposition resolute in voting against every deal she has put.
No change there – last night, Jeremy Corbyn, who took tea with convicted IRA members in Parliament days after the IRA had permanently crippled the wife of a senior cabinet minister and tried to blow up the Prime Minister, walked out of Downing Street talks because Chuka Umunna had been invited to represent The Independent Group. Was it something he said?
All of which puts the cart before the horse anyway – Bercow has disallowed a third Meaningful Vote. And the EU have stated they won’t give her any new anything. Only one new thought has bobbed to the surface. Get ready to have your head split:
Parliament can vote on whether to have a vote on the Meaningful Vote.
That’s right: Parliament is sovereign – so they can overrule Bercow in the final frame. But so what? What does that change about how Parliament then votes? Not Labour, not the Lib Dems, not the ERG. Nothing. Has. Changed.
Tonight, the EU leaders will still gather in Brussels, where Mrs May will pitch for a short delay. Once she leaves, they will be war gaming their responses to the events of next week (if indeed there are any “events” – see above). The outcome is far from certain – if they submit to a long delay, they would be going back on their word, offering incentives to anyone else who wanted to leave the Club.
Like any good relationship breakdown, at least one party has forgotten that the other has a life beyond rehearsing the same arguments over and again. Why can’t we just chunder on and on in looped time, letting our European cousins pick up any slack we drop? Because this is just a saga now – and we may not believe it, but they do have other things to be getting on with.
The stakes are now so high, the solutions so distant, that it’s hard to permit your mind to empathise with the PM without feeling the coppery tang of terror trip across your tongue. Philip Larkin once wrote about coming across a rabbit in a field, dying of myxomatosis. Larkin wondered about what the rabbit imagined was happening – what it thought the disease paralysing it was: “You may have thought things would come right again. If you could only keep quite still and wait.”
This is the Keep Quite Still And Wait PM. Frozen, terrified and now quite beyond help. Larkin used a stick to put the rabbit out of its misery. What legal instrument could euthanise her?