James Forsyth

Theresa May can’t escape Brexit

Theresa May can't escape Brexit
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Next week, Theresa May will announce a massive cash injection for the NHS. As I say in The Sun this morning, in normal times, this would be one of the defining moments of her premiership.

But this announcement will be overshadowed by the latest parliamentary drama over Brexit. Westminster will be waiting to see if May can win her Wednesday showdown with the Remain Tory rebels over how much control parliament should have over the Brexit process.

Those close to May admit that they just don’t know if they have the votes to win. One of those intimately involved in trying to see off the rebels admits that they are now reliant on Labour Eurosceptics coming to her rescue. But Number 10 know that David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, won’t stomach any further concessions on this issue

This whole episode is an illustration of how Brexit crowds out everything else that May wants to do.

May campaigned for Remain, she didn’t want to be the Brexit PM. She has always been clear that her passion is domestic issues, not leaving the EU. But her belief that she could be anything other than the Brexit PM has always been mistaken. Leaving the EU is the biggest change, and challenge, this country has had in forty years. Whatever Prime Minister was doing it, would be defined by that—and little else.

May’s inner circle hope that the gap between EU leaders signing off on the withdrawal agreement, which Number 10 now expects to happen in November, and Britain formally leaving the EU on the 30


March, 2019 will give her a chance to relaunch her premiership with a focus on domestic issues.

But this might be a forlorn hope. For May is using up all her political capital trying to get Brexit through. Tory MPs on both sides of the party’s divide on the issue feel that May and Number 10 haven’t been straight with them at times. As one influential Tory tells me, ‘The problem, at the moment, is no one is happy with how it is going: no one. They’ve manged to make everyone unhappy’.

Now, if May came back with a better than expected deal, she might be able to put all this behind her. But all the signs point to the deal disappointing. Cabinet Ministers close to the process are doing little to disguise their despair at the course that events are taking.

If May comes back with a worse deal than expected, then the Tory party won’t give her time to see through her domestic agenda. As one Tory warns, ‘There’s no way for Theresa to avoid her fate in the history books’.