The Machiavellian genius of Theresa May

Dalrymple explains that he made a mistake in his assessment of Theresa May. He writes:

Like almost everyone else, I regarded her as a pygmy in courage and a giant in incompetence.


it is time for a re-assessment.

After the European Union granted a further delay to Britain’s departure, Donald Tusk said that it was his secret dream to prevent Britain from leaving. It is, says Dalrymple,

pleasing to know that Mr Tusk’s secret dreams so entirely coincide with those of the British political class, including those of Mrs May. At last we have a basis for full and final agreement.

Dalrymple notes that

like the great majority of the British political class, Mrs May was always in favour of remaining in the Union. This class was so confident of its ability to persuade the population that it was right that it agreed with practically no demur to a referendum which would pronounce the winner as the side which obtained 50% plus one of the votes cast. Thus the matter of British membership, it thought, would be settled once and for all.

The problem for the political class was now

to find a method of overriding the result of the referendum without doing so in too blatant a fashion. And here, in Mrs May, it found a perfect leader.


could not just put forward her conviction that Britain should remain in the Union and say outright that she had no intention of carrying out the will of the majority. At that stage, such a disavowal of the result would have been politically impossible and might even have caused unrest.

Instead, she went through

a brilliantly elaborate charade of negotiating withdrawal, in such a way that the result would not be accepted by Parliament. Her agreement would be withdrawal without withdrawal, the worst of all possible outcomes, all complication and difficulty, and no benefit.

She knew that the EU,

having drafted this agreement unacceptable to Parliament, would not renegotiate it. Why should it, since it knew that Parliament had no intention of demanding a real and total withdrawal, since it did not want to withdraw? She also knew that Parliament would never agree to a withdrawal without an agreement with the Union, as Parliament has repeatedly made clear.

Thus, says Dalrymple, May has

brilliantly manœuvred the country into the following dilemma: it has a choice between her agreement and total withdrawal, neither of which is acceptable or ever likely to be accepted.

The only way to cut the Gordian knot

is to withdraw the application to leave; and the whole process has been so long-drawn-out, and so boring, that such a result would be welcome not only to the vast majority of those who voted to remain (though a few have been sufficiently appalled by the European leadership to have changed their mind), but to quite a number who voted to leave who imagined, as Mrs May once so cunningly put it (meaning quite the opposite), ‘Brexit means Brexit’ but who have discovered what perhaps they should have known all along, that when the people don’t like the government it is the people who have to change. The light of Brexit is not worth the candle of the deliberately-induced agonising uncertainties.


has thus fully joined the modern European tradition: the holding of a seeming consultation with the people only to ignore the results if the people get the answer wrong.

The appearances of democracy are preserved, but not the substance. May, says Dalrymple,

has proved brilliantly adept at preserving the appearance while eviscerating the substance. 

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