There has been much condemnation of the vile language used by a hardline Brexiteer against Theresa May, which brought divisions over Europe to a new low. An unnamed (at the time of writing) former Tory minister was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying: “The moment is coming when the knife gets heated, stuck in her front and twisted. She’ll be dead soon.”
Demands have been made to name and shame the MP, then remove the whip and throw him (or her) out of the party. That’s not all, though. Another Tory said the prime minister would need to “bring her own noose” to a meeting later this week, while yet another, said to be an ex-Cabinet minister, likened her stance on the EU to the appeasement of the Nazis.
The issue of Europe has long split the Conservatives but the current vitriol seems to have taken even them by surprise. But to outsiders, the latest assault on the PM is par for the course. Her own party has been attacking her since Brexit began, and the deterioration in tone is inevitable in such a culture of disdain and disrespect.
A so-called rising star and more mainstream Brexiteer, Johnny Mercer, said (again in the Sunday Times) that May was entering “the killing zone”, and some other charmer proclaimed that “assassination is in the air”.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a different kind of revolt, not so rude but just as determined to punish the prime minister for the way she has pursued a Brexit deal. This lot, the “people”, marched in their thousands through central London on Saturday to demand a new vote on leaving the EU.
Led by the likes of Delia Smith, the cookery writer, and Mariella Frostrup, the broadcaster, they hadn’t wanted to leave Europe in the first place and didn’t see why they should be made to by just over half the population.
The more nuanced among them, possibly embarrassed by defying the democratic will of 17.4 million Leavers, said they weren’t calling for a replay of the 2016 referendum, but rather a ballot on the terms of Brexit eventually negotiated by May.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s press chief (and not usually known for his nuances), said: “I think the question has to be on the nature of the deal.
“The Brexit that was promised, and the Brexit that was campaigned successfully for, doesn’t exist.”
However, this subtlety was mostly lost on the great washed, who came wielding Waitrose bags and “Stop Brexit”, “I love EU” and “We are not leaving, so there!” banners.
But can May survive the knives and nooses threatened by her own ranks? The constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor thinks she can.
Writing in Monday’s Daily Telegraph, he suggested the “whole country would suffer were she to be brought down”.
If there was a vote of no confidence in her, it would be in few Tories’ interests to have a general election in the present climate. The party was 20% ahead of Labour in the polls at the time of last year’s snap election and still managed to lose their overall majority. Now that they are just 2% in front, the risk is too “colossal”. And merely changing leaders will not help bridge the Brexit divide, but would delay our departure from Europe, argues Bogdanor
The country, whatever its political persuasion, is pretty ungrateful considering, but this is a burden she seems to have shouldered as she ploughs on thanklessly both at home and in Brussels. Who believes she’d go through all this just for the Tories.