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Speed Read: A meltdown in the Wednesday gloaming

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The Friday Speed Read

Every week, The Friday Speed Read appears outside the front of its house and says nasty things about the very readers that gave it the house in the first place. This policy will continue until a better one comes along. 

You can only speculate what was happening behind the closed door of Number 10 on Wednesday evening as TM the PM prepared to head out to the front to give a brief statement to the gathered media. And given that we’re living at a point in history that’s not so much confusing but utterly beyond the reach of all widely-accepted laws of physics (even the really weird ones like if you glance at a toothbrush in a hurricane then a black hole forms in your sock drawer) this makes speculation as strong a currency as fact. And both are much stronger than the pound. So let’s speculate.

She was tired. That’s a given. And not just a standard, end-of-the week tired, but an eighteen-months-into-the-life-of-your-new-baby-who-refuses-to-sleep-for-more-than-twenty-minutes-at-a-time tired. The woman’s broken. Her voice was now an instrument of self-satire, with fewer tones than the cracked rasp of Old Sam, the bloke who’s always on the corner stool in your local pub who keeps himself alive with an exclusive diet of Strongbow, stolen cigarettes and regret. She’s got to be drinking too much. You would be, wouldn’t you? And not just wine but spirits too: that quick hit of high-power booze that makes you shake your head and roll your eyes and dulls the pain of another barbed remark from Michel Barnier.  She’s clearly stopped listening to advice, with rumours of her Chief Whip banging his head against the Westminster wainscoting at his frustration with TM’s refusal to accept his counsel.

Add to that Speaker Bercow’s surprise decision earlier in the week to invoke parliamentary precedent dating from 1604 to refuse permission for TM to bring back her twice-failed Brexit deal to the Commons for another attempt without “substantial” changes to its content, (The Sun – “B*ll*cks to Bercow”) then it’s perhaps no surprise that something inside the PM snapped in the mid-week gloaming.

And not just snapped, TM the PM went full Lord of the Flies (getting its second reference in as many weeks – we need to read more books), “Kill the UK, cut its throat, bash it in”, throwing open the front door of Number 10, kneeing the sentry policemen in the groin as she passed (important legal disclaimer: this didn’t happen) and, taking a steely grip of the lectern, she then coaxed her knackered larynx back into action. She was going to say what she bloody well wanted. She was TM the PM after all. Who was going to stop her?

And what did rogue TM the PM have to say? That if there was one thing that TM the PM disliked more than putting the bins out, it was those pesky politicians. That useless rabble who’ve made such a contemptible pig’s ear of leaving the EU that just to think about them makes TM the PM feel bilious. TM the PM is on the side of the people; the people are wise and just and always make excellent decisions. TM the PM is as sick of politicians as the people are and something’s got to change; either they do their blimmin’ job and support her deal or we leave the EU without agreement and TM the PM won’t be responsible for the chaos that ensues.

Sated, she then returned inside Number 10 to be greeted by panicked half-smiles from her team. Nobody wanted to be the first to speak and so the silence yawned and grew, punctured only by the creak of 17th century floorboards as TM the PM ascended the stairs to bed. Late that night in the basement, TM’ s team were passing around the cooking brandy, consoling themselves that although tonight had been close to a total catastrophe then at least they had chance to get things back on track the following day in Brussels when the PM was going to officially ask for her Article 50 extension.

But before we tell the story of the story of Thursday night, here’s a little foray into some GCSE-level Media Studies for the sake of respite. Naturally enough, the papers gave TM’s late-night outburst widespread coverage (“It’s not my fault” – The Mirror; “PM tells ‘tired’ Britain: I’m on your side” – The Express; “May: don’t blame me for Brexit crisis” – The Guardian) but if you needed evidence that what the newspapers say is a total irrelevance to anyone under 40, then the Sun’s front page is a perfect case study. It featured the headline “Power to the People”, alongside a photoshopped image of TM the PM as Wolfie Smith from the BBC sit-com Citizen Smith.; admittedly to many this is a classic of the genre, but Citizen Smith was last broadcast on the 31st of December 1980. That’s 1980.

And so to Brussels and to a summit of EU leaders who had gathered to agree their response to TM’s request for an Article 50 extension. And well, with word limit looming, it was by all accounts something of a metaphorical car crash from the Prime Minister. Given 90 minutes by her “friends” to lay out her case, TM’s terrible week final overtook her ability to function. And here, and we don’t like doing this, we’re going to quote an unnamed EU source who was at the meeting. And this isn’t made up we promise:

It was 90 minutes of nothing; she didn’t even give clarity if she is organising a vote. Asked three times what she would do if she lost the vote, she couldn’t say. It was f__king awful. Dreadful. 

Reassured? Well the EU wasn’t, meaning that this is where we’re at: if Bercow allows TM the PM a third attempt at getting her deal through parliament and she wins (she won’t) then the UK will leave the EU on the 22nd of May. If she can’t win the support of the MPs that she roundly bad-mouthed on Wednesday night then the UK will leave the EU on April the 12th with no deal UNLESS the UK comes up with a viable alternative (which TM the PM seems both unwilling and unable to do) in which case a longer-term extension could be agreed.

What’s going to happen? No one knows. Robert Peston tweeted this morning that “probably even God doesn’t know” and that sounds about right. But what’s true is that a week ago, “no deal” seemed unlikely but now, and despite dire warnings from the unlikely bedfellows of the TUC and CBI, it could really come to pass.

Meanwhile, 3 million people have signed a petition demanding that the government revokes Article 50 altogether; huge numbers are set to gather in London tomorrow to make the same demand; 3500 troops have been put on standby, with the Ministry of Defence setting-up an operations room inside a nuclear bunker; meanwhile a march of “leave means leave” supporters has been moving towards the capital all week headed (briefly) by Nigel Farage as a sort of beery Henry V leading his motley army to the victory he thought for decades was impossible.

This is the United Kingdom on Friday 22nd of March 2019. And my goodness, how we wish it wasn’t.

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