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As anyone who ever dealt with a monumentally incompetent contractor, a dodgy purveyor of second hand goods or a con man will appreciate, nothing activates the alarm bells like those two little words.
The phrase is “trust me”. It’s what Walter White told his missus in Ozymandias, the antepenultimate episode of Breaking Bad, when he was pleading with her to get the hell out before the Feds turned up. “Skyler,” he screamed, “you have to trust me.” She reacted as anyone sensible would: she picked up the nearest bread knife and stabbed him.
To have lived more than 60 years without realising its conventional meaning (“Do not under any circumstances trust me”) requires more than an enviably sheltered life. It also takes an amazingly tin ear.
Luckily enough, Theresa May has the tinniest since a metallic man joined Dorothy, Toto et al on the Yellow Brick Road. “Trust me, I’ll Take Back Control,” reads the headline on May’sSunday Times article on the invigorating question of Brexit, “- But I’ll Need Your Help”.
She does indeed need help. Because within days of Boris Johnson loyally describing her sorta customs union brainwave as “crazy”, her cancellation of the latest “crunch Cabinet meeting” to decide the departure plan and the Lords amending the Leaving Bill for the 14th time, even she cannot be naive enough to think that asking for our trust would sound credible.
But the control she pledges to regain is not over the parliamentary process or the Cabinet. It’s over borders, trade, fishing, tax policy and everything else the EU screwed up so horrendously that she voted to remain within it.
“The path I am setting out,” she said, handily condensing the deluge, “is the path to deliver the Brexit people voted for.”
Yes, but at the risk of flogging a horse that turned up in supermarket lasagnes a good while ago, what Brexit might that be when 48 per cent voted for none, and not one of the other 52 per cent voted for anything more precise than to leave?
Nearly two years after the referendum, and a few weeks less since May succeeded David Cameron, it remains a mystical question to which she has no answer.
Even the most patient of her employers must think she’s had long enough. She was hired inJuly, 2016, to sort out the mess caused by the previous cowboys, who did a runner. She was so cocky about fixing it promptly, she activated Article 50 far earlier than necessary – and now the farce takes another twist, with EU officials driven to such despair by her paralysis that they are pushing for a six-month extension to a job that Brussels is desperate to have signed off.
In those almost two years, she has repeatedly asked for trust. She implicitly asked the victims of Grenfell and the Windrush generation to trust her. That went well for them. She explicitly asked the country to trust her with the thumping majority that would strengthen her negotiating position. Look how spiffingly that went.
Now she reprises the request, and curiously enough some appear not to trust her one inch. Surveying the chaos from his loftily Europhile perch, the noble Lord Mandelson accuses her of “Playing for time … Kicking the can down the road. Hoping that something turns up. Hoping that a magical solution will jump out of a top hat and rescue her”. Ya think?
In her defence, her current position is impossible. A bad workman blames his tools, and boy does she have tools to blame. Pincered between Boris and the other terrorist hostage takers on the one side, and the will of the majority in both Houses on the other, she has no room to move.
So when she concludes her article with “I will need your help and support to get there” – there being the promised land of “a stronger, fairer Britain yadayada respected around the world, blah blah blah confident and united at home, yeah, like whatever, that must be enough words, can I please, PLEASE put my pen down NOW?” (I paraphrase very slightly) – one wonders what she can possibly mean.
Is this a coded hint that that she is beginning to accept the need to give Mandelson and millions of others a second referendum on the terms of withdrawal?