Brexit Diaries 50: Last warning for Theresa May | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.12.2018
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Brexit Diaries 50: Last warning for Theresa May

To Brexit or not to Brexit that's still the question. While the ayes have it in Parliament, Boris battles on, and Brexit's oldest cheerleader finds himself right-flanked by his old party.

Four months before Brexit and we are not any closer to knowing whether it will even happen. To Brexit or not to Brexit will remain the question for weeks to come. A recent poll shows the biggest difference yet of people who think it's a bad idea (49 percent) and those who still believe it was right to vote for leaving the EU (38 percent).

Watching British politics descend into total mayhem has apparently made some people change their minds.

Read more: British government forecasts doomsday no-deal Brexit scenario

Meanwhile the prime minister battles on. She opened the final Brexit debate before the vote urging Parliament "with my whole heart" to accept an "honorable compromise" and approve of her deal. Fat chance of that.

Mechanical May

 And, at any rate, many suspect she has a robotic motor in her chest rather than a heart. No matter how often she gets knocked down, she gets up again. There is something creakingly mechanical about it. Or is it the sound of the iceberg heading for Theresa May as she steers her Titanic full speed ahead?

There was one moment of truth, however, when May said, "Don't let anyone think that there is a better deal to be had by shouting louder." Ouch. Parliamentarians do like the sound of their own voices.

Watch video 05:33

May's Brexit Appeal

The House of Commons' travails were further endangered when the toilets in Parliament broke down. "There is no water," someone yelled when the antediluvian plumbing in the Victorian building had finally seized up. This should by no means be seen as symbolic for the overall workings of British politics — old waterworks can be fixed. But it'd be best to keep London's Chelsea Plumbers from getting the job. The writing on the sides of their vans says, "Bollocks to Brexit." 

Meanwhile, May's smallish band of supporters is trying to help and keeps making the rounds on the nation's talk shows. "Parliament is trying to steal Brexit from the people," Trade Minister Liam Fox complained after the latest showdown. But would the people these days not hand it over free of charge? It might be worth asking.

The ayes have it

"The ayes have it," boomed the voice of John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons.

It was a historic defeat. A prime minister has not been so resoundingly beaten in over four decades. Parliament was taking back control and that was not part of Theresa May's Brexit playbook. First, the rebellious MPs held the government in contempt for not publishing the full legal advice the attorney general had prepared for the Cabinet. May and her chief lawyer upheld the idea, that this explosive material should not be discussed in front of the children. It's not in the national interest. Sorry, for adults only.

Theresa May in the House of Commons (picture-alliance/dpa/empics/Pa Wire)

It was a tough day for May in Parliament

The big secret here was that the Irish backstop could, in theory, last till hell freezes over. The temporary customs union could become pretty permanent until Britain reaches a new agreement with the EU on trade and border controls. We are looking at years here and Britain left with no unilateral option to leave. During this period no independent trade deals could be signed. Trade Minister Liam "Global" Fox would be out of work for years to come. 

All this is hardly newsworthy because every lawyer fit in European and international law could have read the divorce agreement and come to the same conclusions. But this was, of course, all about power and a majority in the House wielded the procedural chainsaw with great enjoyment to cut down May's Brexit deal.

Then there was a second and even a third chance for John Bercow to chant "the ayes have it” as he announced further blows against May. One defeat was particularly painful because it had come from dissenters in her own party. The motion gave Parliament the power to determine what happens after the government's Brexit deal is voted down. A vote of no confidence, a second referendum, new elections – anything seems possible. After the breakdown of party or any other discipline, whoever runs with the ball wins the game.

Boris battles on

The Brexit deal would reduce Britain to the status of a colony, Boris Johnson thundered during the debate in Westminster. He had been ominously quiet for a while. Was he plotting in secret or just shooting the breeze? His regular Brexit rants in The Daily Telegraph had also grown shorter — as if the man was finally getting tired of repeating himself.

Boris Johnson im Parlament (picture-alliance/dpa/PA Wire)

Boris is back - did we miss him?

But then his blond mane emerged from the Tory backbenches. What about May's sorry "apology for Brexit"? The Spanish will make a play for Gibraltar. The French will be after our fish and our bankers, which, by the way, would Boris rather do without? The Germans may well want some concessions on the free movement of EU nationals (more workers wanting to jump queues) – and so it goes on. In short: Fight them on the beaches, the perfidious foreigners on the other side of the Channel. Boris is back and will keep filling all our needs for bumptious bombast and ringing rhetoric till the end of Brexit.

There will be strictly no debate

The BBC has finally pulled the plug on the planned leader's debate on Brexit. May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were supposed to go head-to-head to slug it out two days before the Brexit vote. ITV and the BBC had offered to host the ordeal that would certainly dampen that weekend's viewer ratings. Still, the broadcasters were willing to put the national interest first.

But in the end, the king and queen of moving oratory could not agree on a format. May accepted an offer from the BBC that would have included a panel and participants from other parties in order to show "the wide range of views about Brexit." But Labour objected and called the program a pointless mish-mash. Wasn't the party all about inclusion? Corbyn wanted a one-on-one debate on ITV instead, partly because it would not clash with the show "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here." No chance he would get invited though.

May, at the BBC, would have had to contend with "Strictly come dancing," one of the country's favorite pieces of Saturday evening entertainments. But it seems the two leaders cannot come together and the loss is the British public's: Another chance gone to read a good book.

Nigel Farage in European Parliament (Reuters/V. Kessler)

Farage will enjoy a tidy pension from serving in the European Parliament

Rebel without party

Nigel Farage, the original bad boy of Brexit, has finally left the party he created. The new UKIP was not "the Brexit party our nation so badly needs," he declared.

After the new leadership had engaged a well-known right-wing extremist, the situation may have become a bit smelly for Farage. He had stirred up plenty of hatred against Romanians and other eastern European workers in his time, but the strident Islamophobia of Ukip seems a bridge to far for him.

But Farage does not seem an unhappy man. He will have a generous pension form the European Parliament he fought against for years. He has helped to achieve maximum chaos in British politics. And he is being asked on Fox News about what he thinks of the riots in France.  If you're Farage, life cannot get much better than that.

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