Desperate PM gets midnight Brexit concessions

Jean-Claude Juncker: “There will be no third chance.”

Theresa May says she has snatched legally binding changes to her Brexit deal from the jaws of disastrous defeat. MPs have reacted with disbelief. The media says Britain is in crisis. Is it?

“Whatever emerges from the ashes of this week’s Commons votes, nothing can conceal the humiliation this country has suffered under Theresa May’s lock-jawed leadership. The PM has tarnished one of the jewels in the British crown — respect for this once-great nation in the eyes of the world […] The world’s fifth-largest economy, nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, has been reduced to an object of international pity.”

So writes the 76-year-old former political editor of The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh, attempting as ever to sum up the national mood.

If the temperature of the political frenzy were measured in centigrade, this morning Britain would surely be a sizzling 50 degrees, a level at which human life is hard to sustain.

“Theresa May really does face the biggest week of her premiership. And possibly her last. A series of votes (and defeats) will decide the future of Brexit, and her own. Just don’t ask anyone what will happen. They don’t know,” said the BBC’s top political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, said that if May lost the vote today her time would be up. “I think it would be very difficult for the prime minister to stay in office very much longer.”

Doomsmay” is the favourite pun in the papers, conjuring up an image of the symbolic doomsday clock at two minutes to midnight, promoted by atomic scientists to show the risk to global civilisation from nuclear weapons and climate change.

And all across the world, from Dallas to Delhi, people are waking up to the same headline: “Brexit crisis grips Britain.” One Guardian headline doing the rounds on social media was rather more ominous: “Brace yourself, Britain. Brexit is about to teach you what a crisis actually is.”

In response to this, two questions immediately confront every thoughtful person. First: are we really in a crisis — or is the media like a “sounding brass” using empty words? Second: does politics really matter that much?

Keep calm and carry on?

Is a crisis defined by its outcome: terrible facts such as death, hunger and disease? Every day there are wars, famines and disasters. Surely these are the real crises? Or is a crisis also about uncertainty? Not knowing what might happen next is extremely worrying for many people. On that score, perhaps Brexit counts?

The bigger question is: do we exaggerate the importance of politics in life? Britain is dominated by one giant city, and that city is dominated by a very noisy debate. The media lives inside the bubble and amplifies it. Meanwhile, normal people still meet for coffee. Children still play. Life goes on. “Ideology and certainty are as vulgar as they are untrue.”

You Decide

  1. Do you think there should be more news that is not about politics?
  2. What is the worst crisis facing Britain today?

Activities

  1. Make a chart comparing how many days the last five British prime ministers were in power for. If Theresa May loses her job on June 1, where does she come on the chart?
  2. Imagine you had to make a speech calming people down about Brexit by comparing the fuss this week to the much more difficult challenges in our history. You only have 300 words! Try writing the speech.

Some People Say...

“I’ve always thought the need to know the news every day is a nervous disorder.”

Michael Oakeshott, philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That Theresa May will be opening the debate this evening ahead of a so-called “meaningful vote” on her latest deal which must be agreed by Parliament to come into force. We know that last time her deal was put to Parliament in January, she suffered a record loss as it was voted down by a margin of 230. We know that the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, will publish his legal advice on the changes to the deal before the vote tonight.
What do we not know?
Who will vote for it — and whether Britain will have agreed a Brexit deal by the end of today or not. Will Labour vote for the new deal? Will Jacob Rees-Mogg’s powerful European Reform Group of Brexiteer MPs? At the time of publication we just don’t know. The answers will decide Theresa May’s fate — and Britain’s.

Word Watch

Lock-jawed
There are two meanings: literal and figurative. The literal meaning is when your jaw seizes up, a condition of the disease tetanus, for example. The figurative meaning is to have a totally set jaw, as in a person who is utterly and totally stubborn and refuses to listen.
Doomsmay
A pun on the word “doomsday”, referring of course to Theresa May.
Sounding brass
A reference to a famous quote from the Bible — “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” — meaning roughly “making a lot of noise with no substance”.