ON she staggered, bruised and beggarly, dragging the rest of us along her personal Via Dolorosa.
Theresa May stepped to the despatch box at the precise moment the Commons digital clock clicked 3.33.33 – thirty-three seconds past three thirty-three in the afternoon, yet still an age before voters can be sure their decision to leave the EU will be honoured by a wriggling Parliament.
If there was something Harry Potterish about the hour, there was something weirdly timeless about watching such epic inertia unfold.
Has indecision ever been so dramatic? ‘I have listened very carefully,’ Mrs May told a packed, quivering Chamber. This won her ripe mockery. She said she had finally decided to ‘defer the vote’.
Theresa May is pictured making her announcement on the delay of her Brexit deal vote in the House of Commons today
She meant she was not going to risk putting her deal to the Commons last night, or possibly any time before the new year.
Opposition MPs gave satirical cheers and shouts of ‘chaos’ and ‘resign!’ Jeremy Corbyn, carrying his own benches with him as he has not done for many a day, spoke of ‘a Government in disarray’.
On the Tory benches, which had greeted her arrival with sparse enthusiasm, Mrs May was heard with crossed arms and a nonchalant curiosity.
MPs were there as rubberneckers, gawping at her calamity rather as wildlife-programme viewers will watch the slow demise of a baby hippo.
Not that she accepted her predicament.
The woman is a complete professional when it comes to blanking reality.
She said she was going to return to Brussels and jolly well tell those Eurocrats of ‘the clear concerns this House has expressed’.
(We should hold open the possibility this was the plan of Mrs May and Mr Tusk all along.)
She would seek ‘additional reassurance’ from the EU about the Irish backstop.
But Lee Rowley (Con, NE Derbys) politely but firmly asked if she could explain how political reassurances could ever trump the legal cold print of a treaty.
Boris Johnson, in the back row next to Priti Patel, blew out his cheeks. There was no gloating from Boris or the Brexiteers yesterday.
They watched in sorrow.
Jeremy Corbyn, carrying his own benches with him as he has not done for many a day, spoke of ‘a Government in disarray’, writes QUENTIN LETTS
The ones doing the cackling were the ruddy Remainers – the Grieves and Wollastons of this world. Kenneth Clarke (Con, Rushcliffe) insisted the EU would not budge on the backstop. He was delighted by this. It was sad to watch old Clarke, now ghostly pale.
He muttered ruderies at Tory colleagues.
He talked to himself. Anna Soubry (Con, Broxtowe) was twitching like a Tyburn corpse.
Arch Remainer Soubry was given the bird when she claimed that the electorate had changed its mind on the EU.
Sensing disagreement from colleagues, she said ‘oh yes it has!’ Back came the roar: ‘OH NO IT HASN’T!’ Soubry scowled darkly.
Stricken Mrs May won marginally more support from her own benches than she had received on recent outings. Maybe that was because her tone, at least, leaned more to the Eurosceptics, writes QUENTIN LETTS
She does not much like being laughed at. She went trotting up to have a word with Speaker Bercow. He, by the way, again tried to make life difficult for the Government.
He interrupted the PM’s statement to say that it would be a ‘discourtesy’ to the House to postpone the vote. Might it not be a ‘discourtesy’ to the voters to try to block Brexit?
Stricken Mrs May won marginally more support from her own benches than she had received on recent outings. Maybe that was because her tone, at least, leaned more to the Eurosceptics.
If only she had leaned that way at Chequers in the summer.
Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover) used an expression from his old enemy, Margaret Thatcher, to accuse Mrs May of being ‘frit’. Cheryl Gillan (Con, Chesham & Amersham) claimed that she had in fact shown ‘great courage’.
Fortitude might be more accurate. Masochism, even. But courage means putting your own survival on the line and yesterday Mrs May avoided doing that.
Pet owners know, to their regret, that there eventually comes the day that Tiddles must be taken to the vet and put out of her misery.
That moment could have happened to Mrs May yesterday. Postponing the vote may simply ‘defer’ the inevitable.