Then out spake spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate. Or this afternoon, out spake David Lidington, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The Prime Minister was in Berlin, where she was reported to be having difficulty getting out of her car. Labour MPs were in Westminster, where they were having difficulty conveying how cross they were with the Prime Minister for pulling the meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Yvette Cooper warned of the danger of having “no vote on the deal and no vote on no deal”. Nicky Morgan, from the Conservative benches, wanted “a categorical assurance that there will be no trickery by the Government”.
In the words of Hilary Benn, “What we learned yesterday was that today’s assurances can disappear tomorrow like a puff of wind.” Angela Eagle said the Prime Minister “has completely shredded her credibility”.
Angela Smith agreed that “the Government’s credibility is in shreds”, and added that “what we’re facing now is not a meaningful vote but a blackmail strategy”.
Thangam Debbonaire said “the Government is trying to hold a no deal Brexit gun to the country’s head”.
These trifling criticisms were fielded by Robin Walker, a junior Brexit minister, who said the meaningful vote would happen at latest on 21st January, but declined to be any more specific.
Jeremy Corbyn then opened for Labour in the emergency debate on the Government’s management of the meaningful vote.
He said Theresa May had “demeaned her office”, and accused her of “running away”. But Corbyn himself ran away from calling a vote of no confidence.
He too, it appears, is not all that keen on meaningful votes. When he accused the Prime Minister of “weak leadership”, one felt he knew of what he spoke.
Lidington rose to reply. He pointed out that in the last two months, the Prime Minister has spent “more than 22 hours at this Despatch Box”. He said that 21st January is “a deadline and not a target”, and added that “we need to push on with this sooner rather than later”.
But unlike Horatius, Lidington did not kill anyone. That is one reason why MPs like Lidington. He is not a killer.
And he treats his opponents with respect. “It’s a fair question,” as he told Benn. Lidington is admired for his decency and moderation.
All that roused Lidington to a flash of passion was the “fantasy” that one can have all the benefits of EU membership without its obligations. That thought annoyed him.
After he had spoken, the criticisms of the Prime Minister continued. Sir William Cash said she has “reached the point of no return” and “may well have to resign”. Morgan canvassed the idea of a government of national unity.
Horatius saved Rome. It does not look as if Lidington can save May.