Brexit means Theresa May

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 3 July 2018 in Comment

Faced with criticism over a lack of detail, Theresa May has expanded on her plans to announce that 'Brexit means Brexit means Brexit'

Image credit: PA

Theresa May isn’t even trying anymore. Or if she is, it’s not clear what she’s trying to try.

Two years. A thousand speeches. A baffling, pointless, stubbed toe of an election, and we are just now, with Leaving Day almost upon us, hearing an explanation for the UK’s constitutional future beyond ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

And what is it? Brexit means Brexit means Brexit.

That’s actually true. It’s what Theresa May actually said. You didn’t used to need to emphasise that when quoting a Prime Minister, yet here we are. Theresa May, despite everything that has happened, every criticism and every coup, still feels confident enough to walk into the House of Commons chamber and announce “There’s been much jocularity around the term Brexit means Brexit, but it does mean Brexit”.

She just said it. She didn’t laugh or cry, or look confused and apologise for making no sense, and the side of her mouth didn’t try to sneak off the side of her face, like it normally does when she is under pressure.

Brexit means Brexit means Brexit. It’s unbelievable – for the first time in recorded UK political history the most plausible explanation for a policy statement from a PM is that they are taunting us.

It was actually quite impressive on one level, and not least because the Prime Minister succeeded in constructing a sentence in which ‘much jocularity’ was the least ridiculous part.

The answer had been in response to Sir Desmond Swayne, who asked whether Brexit would "be recognisable as Brexit". Would Brexit be recognisable as Brexit? Well, by definition, yes. It’s not going to be in disguise, is it Desmond? But then, whatever your view of the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party, they’ve never seemed like a bunch who allow themselves to become overly troubled by matters of detail.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no reason it has to be this hard. Leaving the EU was always going to a complicated process, but you should still be able to explain it. This is a political process Theresa May is talking about, she’s not Indiana Jones, trying to break open some cursed artefact.

Brexit means Brexit means Brexit. Why say it? People are really nervous about the implications of the vote and what it might mean for their lives, so why do this to them? Watching the chamber, it genuinely looked like she was trying to win a bet. Like someone dared her to add another ‘Brexit’ to the Brexit chain.

At least when Tony Blair announced his plans to focus on ‘education, education, education’ you knew it was a statement of intent. If Theresa May started repeating ‘Brexit, Brexit, Brexit’ over and over, having finally cast aside all the other superfluous words, any dispassionate observer would be left with little conclusion other than the fact she had gone into some sort of robotic meltdown.

And actually, the most worrying bit is that there’s no way of knowing how this will end. There’s nothing to stop her. Ask yourself, genuinely, whether you think Theresa May would lose her job if, facing criticism for spouting more vacuous nonsense, she just came out and announced that ‘Brexit means Brexit means Brexit means Brexit’? Because she could, you know. She could just keep adding Brexits, like daisies to a flower chain, in every speech from now until eternity.

The worst thing would be if Theresa May finds out Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit. This is a Prime Minister who, despite campaigning for Remain, has now tied her legacy forever to the outcome of this process. The idea her premiership could be judged by any other measure than the success of her negotiations with the EU now looks laughable. And for May, when she finishes the job, there is a good chance Brexit will mean betrayal by her own party.

Trapped between competing factions, for Theresa May Brexit represents a poisoned chalice. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, left staring forlornly at a shrivelled monkey paw and shrieking “when I said I wanted to be PM I didn’t mean like this!”

And in the end maybe people will just stop asking. They’ll know what Brexit means. Brexit means Theresa May, and Theresa May means Brexit.

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