I cannot have been the only person sitting on a sofa somewhere in the UK Wednesday night, watching the Prime Minister stare mirthlessly at the camera, and thinking in disbelief… is this it?
Is this total intransigence and failure of vision really the best that this country deserves?
The best that our Prime Minister can give us?
It was hugely disappointing.
One can disagree fervently with Brexit and all it entails, and still want this country to leave the EU with a semblance of integrity and honour.
Many of my colleagues who voted Remain are unhappy with the Referendum result and the way in which it was procured, but have decided that it must be honoured. They have been watching the process unfold with horror. The UK must be allowed to leave the UK in a way that is a “least worst” option, one that does not recklessly endanger the economy or the rights of citizens. When people talked of a “no deal” Brexit, or a swivel-eyed libertarian from the ERG came on the radio, they could be tolerated because their vision was not shared by a majority. But what happens now, when parliament is so divided that no consensus can be reached?
For those ardent Brexiteers who refuse to take Theresa May’s Deal because it does not accord with the entirely impossible dream that they have promised their followers, they have let Brexit slip through their fingers. For those Remainer MPs who have given impassioned speeches in the House arguing for compromise, but failed to resign when the Prime Minister reneged on her promises and backtracked on collaboration, you have let party loyalty cloud your vision. So what happens now?
The answer is not to rubbish parliamentary democracy in the crass and insulting fashion we have had to endure from the Prime Minister tonight. The only answer is to set aside party doctrine and come together. That is not something that either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn have shown themselves capable of. I reserve my most profound disappointment for the so-called Leader of the Opposition. He has not opposed Theresa May’s damaging actions. If anything, he has aided and abetted her by failing to challenge her robustly. His dithering silence has brought shame on the proud Internationalist tradition of the Labour Party. To see Labour fall behind this shambolic Government in the polls time and again is one of the most astonishing aspects of this whole mess.
This process has been deeply destabilising to watch. The constitutional and political norms that have been trampled on by this Government are constitutional safeguards that have been developed over centuries of fraught and passionate political argument. For those of us who are young enough to have only read about the national humiliation of the Suez crisis in the history books, this feels a lot as though it’s our turn to feel the shame and ignominy of national failure on the international stage. Our politics is in crisis.
And that is why - even though a People’s Vote was not my first choice, largely because I felt that one divisive vote had been quite enough for me - I marched on Saturday against the Prime Minister’s dereliction of duty. I marched to stand up for a new politics that embraces cross-party collaboration and working together in the national interest. I think it’s time to Change Politics.
Francesca O'Neill is a civil barrister specialising in employment, immigration, and business and commercial law. She is also a School Governor.