Amber Rudd, a washed-up ex-minister last week, is the de facto Brexit secretary today. She revealed her loyalties this morning when she told an interviewer that parliament wouldn’t approve a no-deal agreement. And with no deal off the table, Brussels can dictate terms. Congrats Amber. The Légion d'honneur is on its way. And a peerage too, in all probability, given that Nick Clegg was knighted for opposing Brexit.
Remainer Rudd’s bombshell was raised by Jeremy Corbyn at the start of PMQs. He asked Mrs May to state whether no deal is still an option.
‘I have consistently made clear,’ began the PM, before continuing in deliberately cryptic terms. The alternatives to her deal, she said, are ‘more division’ (perhaps meaning a leadership challenge) or ‘a risk of no Brexit’ (perhaps a threat of a People’s Vote).
‘She didn’t answer the question,’ said Mr Corbyn.
‘Is this the final text,’ he pressed, ‘or is there another text that’s on its way to us?’
Mrs May took the easy route and mocked Mr Corbyn’s failure to plough through all 585 pages of last week's draft agreement. And she waffled about protecting ‘jobs, security and our union’, sounding no different from a Labour Remainer arguing in favour of the Single Market.
The ground is already shifting and May is preparing to console the country with an exit-bag full of worthless trinkets. It’s Operation Wooden Spoon. She gave us a sneak-peak of the goodies to be thrown our way.
First, we’ll have an extra £71 billion gleaming in our coffers.
That’s the difference between today’s invoice of £39bn and the EU’s initial ransom demand of £100bn. Mrs May boasted about this discount in answer to Neil Parish, a Tory backbencher, who questioned the wisdom of paying billions for the chance simply to start, not to conclude, trade negotiations.
Mrs May said, with a patriotic blush, that Britain ‘will meet its legal obligations.’
But if the sum of £39bn is a ‘legal obligation’, the EU must have behaved illegally by trying to double it.
Our second consolation prize is the 'backstop’, described as ‘a guarantee’, although sounds more like a jail-term without parole. This curious mantrap would be in service for ‘a number of months,’ May has said, but without naming a figure. Three months? Five thousand months? Both are ‘a number’ of months.
Esther McVey made an oddly banal intervention.
Will the UK leave the EU on March 29th next year, ‘come what may?’ she asked.
Yes, said the PM. What a position to end up in. MPs are asking the prime minister if Brexit is still part of the Brexit talks
Nicholas Soames wished her Godspeed to Brussels and begged her to establish ‘the closest possible ties’ with our European allies and friends. Mrs May beamed with pleasure. And she announced a new red-line to gratify the Brexiteers.
‘We are not leaving Europe,’ she said. This was a welcome surprise to those observers who thought Brexit meant detaching the UK from the Eurasian land-mass and connecting it with North America.
We can expect her to return from Brussels flourishing other non-trophies: a pledge that Britons won’t be conscripted into Field Marshall Juncker’s army; and a commitment that royalties won’t be charged to UK nationals who use words of French origin like ‘volte-face’, ‘malfeasance’ and ‘capitulation’.