Don't mention the divorce: why must it all be about Brexit, thought Theresa | John Crace

John Crace
Theresa May makes a statement to MPs about last week’s EU summit. Photograph: PA

Don’t call it a divorce,” said Theresa May crossly. “Brexit isn’t a divorce.” She was right. A divorce implies two parties more or less amicably agreeing their terms of separation within a couple of years. Brexit was going to be messier than that. Much messier. The chances of reaching a mutually satisfactory financial settlement and trade agreement in that short a time were almost non-existent.

The prime minister had come to the Commons to give a statement on last week’s meeting of EU leaders. But as almost nothing had happened and she was sent home while the other 27 EU countries discussed Brexit, she didn’t have a lot to say. She rifled through her notes, trying to fill in time. “I did call on the EU to complete the single market in digital services as that would be in the UK’s best interests,” she said. Only someone with a synaptic disconnect could have remained oblivious to the irony of urging everyone else to sign up to something she was committed to leaving. But Theresa effortlessly sank to the occasion.

Everyone else just wanted to talk about Brexit. Everyone except Jeremy Corbyn, that is. Having managed to miss his own article 50 rally in London the night before, he was now hell-bent on missing his moment to put the prime minister on the spot. Not that anyone would have known if he had been saying anything to challenge her as the entire house talked through his pre-recorded response. The louder he spoke, the louder everyone else spoke. Not even his front benchers bother to show any sign of listening to him now.

Theresa yawned and only perked up when the SNP’s Angus Robertson stood up to speak. Here was her chance to show off her world-famous diplomacy. To sweet-talk the whiny Scots in the same way as she was planning to charm the Frogs and the Krauts into doing whatever she wanted. To prove to the country she was the woman to get the best deal for Britain.

“I do wish you would just stop moaning about a second independence referendum,” she said, rolling her eyes. The Jocks had had their chance and blown it. Now they just had to suck it up until she was ready to give them one. Or not. She hadn’t decided yet. Either way, Scotland was coming out of the EU. End of. What it had to accept was that it was better off being part of a union. Even if the United Kingdom was better off out of one. Logic has never been the prime minister’s strongest suit.

For some reason, Robertson only found the offensive in Theresa’s charm offensive. Why had she not kept her promise to reach a compromise with Scotland before triggering article 50 at the end of the month? Theresa shrugged. Where to start? Not bothered? Too difficult? What’s Scotland? Any one of them would do. Robertson could take his pick. The SNP’s Alex Salmond tried to have another go but was brushed off with the same patronising dismissal.

Spotting a golden opportunity to make a bad situation worse, Conservative Richard Drax declared that the SNP was leading Scotland over a cliff like lemmings. And that was not on. Only Theresa was allowed to lead a country over a cliff edge. For God, England, Queen Therry and lemmings! Over in Brussels, a coach-load of EU negotiators made a mental note to stretch out the Brexit deal for an extra couple of years. Just for the hell of it. They would enjoy seeing the UK suffer.

Labour’s Emma Reynolds was more interested in knowing what possible deal could be worse than no deal. “I’m optimistic,” Theresa said. So optimistic, she didn’t want to talk about it because it wasn’t going to happen. La, la, la. We were at Year Zero. The beginning and end of history. Just because every other trade deal with the EU had been drawn out and difficult there was no reason to imagine that ours would be the same. Not when she, Theresa the Empress of Empathy and therapist to the EU stars, was in charge. There would be no divorce. Just a conscious uncoupling. Gwynnie would understand. Even if no one else did.

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