Friday 5 April 2019 8:18 am

Don’t be fooled, May’s talks with Corbyn merely bide her time

Very few people believe that the ongoing talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will yield a satisfactory solution to the Brexit crisis.

The Leader of the Opposition is in a ludicrously powerful position: he can demand exactly what he wants from May, and if she tries to make him shift or compromise, he will shrug his shoulders – and bring down her government.

Without the support of the DUP (and no one’s counting on that anymore) the Conservatives have a vanishingly small working majority. This means that if a tiny clutch of weary Tory MPs sided with opposition parties in a vote of no confidence in the government, we’d be heading for a General Election.

This game is a win-win for Corbyn, and as we all should have learned by now, negotiations between a weak party and a strong party have a habit of going very badly indeed.

Imagining that the Prime Minister initiated these talks because she seriously believes that they will break the Brexit deadlock is fanciful.

In reality, she made the perplexing decision to reach out to Corbyn – and alienate grassroots Conservatives – because it buys her some time from the EU.

European leaders can’t understand why the Prime Minister has not reached out across party lines before now. They’ve never grasped the adversarial nature of Westminster politics, which is so different to that on the continent. EU leaders can’t comprehend why, in such a national crisis, all sides seem so unwilling to talk and compromise.

May knows that even if her talks with Corbyn are doomed to fail, being seen to engage will send the right message to Barnier, Tusk et al.

And as long as the EU is still speaking to her, she can continue to cling to power.

Watching Theresa May splutter and stutter as she ricochets from one humiliation to another, it’s hard for most people to believe that she would want to remain in Number 10.

Yes, being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has its perks – and of course, as a serious parliamentarian, May was keen to do her duty to the country.

But, at this point, no one could accuse her of neglecting her duties by deciding to step down. And surely, throwing in the towel now – with a shred of dignity still in tact – would be a blessed relief to her.

But Theresa May is not most people. Admirably or foolishly, whichever way you look at it, she has dedicated her entire life to Westminster politics in a way even the most committed parliamentarians struggle to understand.

She spent her childhood stuffing envelopes for the Conservative party, met her husband, the then president of the Oxford Union Society, at a Conservative party student disco. She became a Conservative councillor when she was just 29, and has few friends, or even serious interests, outside of Westminster.

Of course, she feels that she has a duty to sort out Brexit for the country, but she also feels – and perhaps more strongly – that she has a duty to herself to stick at the job she wanted so desperately for so long.

Over and over again, the Prime Minister has proved that she is prepared to lose anything and everything – her political dignity, her principles, her Brexit secretaries – in exchange for a bit more time in power.

Even when she gave the appearance of sacrificing her premiership to save her deal, it seems more likely that she was, in fact, sacrificing her deal to save her premiership.

Once the DUP and hardcore ERG had made it clear that they would not support her deal, it became apparent that it needed a lot of Labour support.

And May’s promise to resign in the event of it getting through only paves the way for a Boris premiership, which is something few Labour MPs could stomach.

As predicted, her deal failed to attract enough opposition votes, and although it has now, at last, been buried, May is still Prime Minister.

As her one and only flagship policy, May’s deal should always have been synonymous with May.

Once it failed, any other Prime Minister would have given in, and allowed a fresh face, with a fresh plan, to take over. Instead, she has changed her entire strategy in order to kick the can down the road yet again.

May is using every trick in the book to delay her departure from Number 10, and will continue to do until forced to stop. And that means that the fabled leadership race may well be a lot further off than most of us would like to believe.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.