The Duke of Plaza-Toro led his regiment from behind – he found it less exciting.
Theresa May is in growing danger of being seen, by her own troops, as the Duchess of Plaza-Toro. She leads her government from behind – she finds it less exciting.
As a spectacle, it is not just unexciting but inglorious. Jeremy Corbyn said the word “Brexit”. The moment he did, silence fell, for everyone knows this is dangerous territory for the Prime Minister, a minefield into which she is not inclined to advance, and which seems to have induced paralysis.
The Leader of the Opposition asked when the White Paper on Brexit will be published. Will it come out before or after the EU summit at the end of this month?
The Prime Minister would not answer. She tried to hide beneath a smokescreen of platitudes – “We have already set out our ambition” – and claimed the votes in the Commons next Tuesday on the Withdrawal Bill “will show the sincerity of the House” to deliver Brexit.
But where was her sincerity? Her own troops grew restive. For a long time they have concealed their misgivings, and have declined to speak out at Prime Minister’s Questions. Today that self-restraint broke down.
Henry Smith (Con, Crawley) observed that people want to see trains arrive without delay, and Brexit arrive without delay too: “Please may we have delivery?”
Andrea Jenkyns (Con, Morley and Outwood), who recently resigned as a parliamentary private secretary in order to campaign more vigorously for Brexit, invited the Prime Minister to “restate to our European friends that no deal is better than a bad deal”, and wished to know “in what circumstances is she prepared to walk away?”
Mark Francois (Con, Rayleigh and Wickford) delivered a passionate condemnation of the scapegoating of “brave servicemen” who find themselves subjected to “legacy investigations”, and proposed a statute of limitations.
Justine Greening (Con, Putney) condemned the Heathrow deal as “the worst kind of nationalisation”, with the public sector bearing the risk and the private sector taking the profit.
To none of these interventions did the Prime Minister say anything remotely memorable. Thin platitudes enunciated with hollow trenchancy were all the Duchess of Plaza-Toro could offer to cheer her troops, and a loyal Cabinet minister who was sitting beside her stifled a yawn.