Brexit looks like a farce, but May carries on regardless – Ian Swanson

THERESA May’s TV tastes are said to include watching quiz shows The Chase and Eggheads with husband Philip. Her favourite programme as a student was apparently The Goodies. It’s not clear what she thinks of ­Sixties comedy ­capers starring the likes of Sid James, Kenneth Williams and ­Hattie Jacques.

Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 5:00 am
Theresa May has survived against the political odds. Picture: AFP/Getty

But she seems to have adopted Carry On Regardless as the theme for her premiership. Despite suffering the biggest parliamentary defeat in history over her Brexit deal last week and that clock insistently ticking down to departure day, the Prime Minister is sticking as close as she can to the rejected package.

Opposition politicians who accepted her invitation to talks after the Brexit defeat reported that while her door might be open, her mind was closed.

And her statement to the Commons yesterday was hailed as not so much Plan B as Plan A revisited.

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She is going to seek more talks with European leaders to see what ­concessions might be available – even though she has tried that before and they have made clear there can be no renegotiation.

Although she denies her strategy is to “run down the clock” to March 29 and panic MPs into backing her deal rather than risk no deal or no Brexit, it looks very much as if that is what she is doing.

Mrs May has defied the normal rules of politics – surviving at No 10 after throwing away a Commons majority in an unnecessary general election, soldiering on despite key cabinet resignations and maintaining her grip on power even after a third of her party said they had no confidence in her.

Admirers call her resilient and stoic. Tory elder statesman Ken Clarke famously labelled her “a bloody difficult woman” – which she took as a compliment. Others might say she is plain stubborn, unable to compromise and lacking in imagination.

One commentator, writing before the 2017 general election, described Mrs May as the “do-your homework prime minister” – hard working and diligent, a dogged campaigner. She was someone who took a position and then stuck to it, seeing it as a matter of principle that she must deliver on what she had committed to.

When she became Home Secretary she inherited the commitment to drive down immigration to the “tens of thousands” but made it her own and was determined to stick to it, even if she did not believe in it. The commentator continued: “It is far from clear she believed it was good policy. That wasn’t the issue. It was now her policy and she would see it through.”

The same might be said of Brexit, Mrs May campaigned for Remain, albeit more or less unnoticed, and became prime minister only after David Cameron walked away in the wake of the 2016 referendum.

She sees the key part of the job as delivering on that result. Her own views on Brexit are almost beside the point. She believes the British people voted to leave the EU and as prime minister it is her duty to bring that about – at almost any cost.

Determination and a dedication to the task in hand are often admirable qualities. But they are not necessarily the prime requirement in every situation.

A refusal to compromise or change course is likely to lead to an unhappy conclusion to this sorry mess.