Theresa May’s so-called toughness would be easier to applaud if she took Brexit to the people once more

Sean O'Grady

Normally I would not be so rude as to compare the prime minister to an old banger, but, watching her on Sky News with Sophy Ridge defiantly defending her Brexit deal, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an old Top Gear stunt, of all things.

This was the episode when they set out to find the toughest car in the world, and they tried to destroy a Toyota pick-up truck. They smashed it about so much it was almost unrecognisable by the time they’d done with it. Jeremy Clarkson drove it down a flight of near vertical concrete steps, reversed it into a tree, attempted to drown it in the Bristol Channel, dropped a caravan on it, hit it with a wrecking ball and finally just set fire to it.

Started first time. Just like Theresa, though a little Scotch acts as her WD40. So the Toyota just kept going. Remind you of anybody? Nowadays Toyota advertise their truck with the slogan “In Case of Apocalypse”. The Tories could do the same with their leader.

Which brings us to Brexit, that apocalyptic unstable load stowed in Theresa May’s boot. She has a simple argument that keeps her on the road. This is “the deal”. There’s no more dreaming. You can’t have the Brexit you voted for (whatever that may be) because the Europeans won’t let you have it. There are no more talks.

Her critics, such as Dominic Raab, say that we should stand up to “Brussels bullies” and walk away from the negotiations. To which the response has to be: first, we started this playground scrap; second, they’re bigger than us; third, the best way to deal with a bully is to get into their gang or, now we’ve left the gang, try and be as friendly as you can. What you don’t do is walk off and start self-harming while they get on with taking the Greeks’ dinner money off them and calling the Italians names.

She will win her votes of confidence because the alternatives are all worse. Apparently Jacob Rees-Mogg is to be chancellor in a Boris government. How compelling is that?

She may also get her policy through because the alternatives are worse, but that is harder to see. She could, and should, have the courage to take her deal to the people and have it subjected to full-on public scrutiny and a vote.

She should give us the Final Say, and put her deal against Remain, and settle things for ever. She has started echoing Mrs Thatcher in saying “there is no alternative” to her deal, a nice touch. It is true it is the only deal around – but there remains the alternative to her Brexit deal, and that is to remain in the EU. She should be tough enough to take her case to the people she professes to serve, and to face that challenge too. She might even survive.