Britain’s government slides into chaos

By BAGEHOT

NOBODY CAN accuse Theresa May of an unwillingness to repeat herself. The woman who said, again and again, that “Brexit means Brexit” is now telling Britain that her version of Brexit is the only version worth having. This morning the prime minister spent three hours extolling her deal to the House of Commons. This evening she spent a mercifully shorter period addressing the country via a press conference. Mrs May claims that her version of Brexit does two hard-to-deliver things. It respects the result of the 2016 referendum by taking back control of Britain’s borders, ending the free movement of people. But it does so in a responsible way by ensuring frictionless trade with the EU.

Mrs May is determined to talk to as many audiences as possible rather than just, as has often been her wont in the past, playing to Conservative MPs. Her speech in Parliament was addressed as much to Labour MPs as to Tories. Her press conference was intended to take the message to the country: her calculation is that the best way to bring wavering MPs onside is to address their constituents who are worried about their jobs and who, more than anything else, want the government to get Brexit over and done with. Mrs May took every opportunity to present herself as the grown-up in the room. Rather than crackpot policies such as leaving without a deal or having a second referendum, Mrs May claims to offer a realistic solution to a difficult problem.

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