Brexit and the Prime Minister

As I write this on Tuesday evening, my phone is lit as MPs from across the political divide line up on Twitter to trash Theresa May’s latest Brexit proposal.

Broadly speaking, there are three groups of people who want to reject it: those who want no deal, those who want no Brexit, and those who want to sow as much chaos as possible to ensure Jeremy Corbyn is propelled into Downing Street.

The appetite for compromise – what used to be the hallmark of pragmatic and moderate British politics – has evaporated. Brexit could be delivered by the summer, and in an orderly way that safeguards jobs for people in Cheltenham in businesses ranging from Spirax Sarco to GE Aviation. But instead, Brexit has become a binary issue, and those on each side of the argument have climbed ever higher up their respective barricade. Neither wants to listen to the opinion of the other, raising profound questions about the unity of our country.

For the Prime Minister, I’m afraid this feels like checkmate. I have huge admiration for her fortitude and mental toughness. No one could have tried harder to deliver this compromise deal. But for many she has become part of the problem. She left it too late to reach across the political divide. Trust has evaporated, as has any ability she may have had to convince or persuade.

And once trust and credibility goes, rarely can it be restored. People simply stop listening. However sensible a proposal might be, there comes a moment when the reputation of the person making it guarantees its doom.

History will judge how fair that is in Theresa May’s case. But in the present it can’t be dodged.

A new leader will have a responsibility to show how the will of the majority can be honoured while preserving our country and society in all its rich diversity. Otherwise they will face the same fate.