QUENTIN LETTS on Theresa May’s ‘seven minutes of vinegar and vexation’

She was like a farmyard terrier that had espied a big fat, rat. QUENTIN LETTS on Theresa May’s ‘seven minutes of vinegar and vexation’ outside Downing Street

Fetch that, Johnny Brussels! 

Downing Street’s ‘bloody difficult woman’ rediscovered her red corpuscles yesterday afternoon when, in a TV address of simmering fury, she told the Europeans to pull their act together or see us quit their petty club without a deal.

This brief, skin-bubbler of a speech from inside No 10 – delivered with a couple of Union Flags behind her – was a reversion to the pre-election Mrs May. 

It was a return to the days when she cheerfully speared Centrist ‘saboteurs’ of the British establishment who were trying to wreck Brexit.

Theresa May makes a statement on the Brexit negotiations following a European Union summit in Salzburg, at 10 Downing Street, yesterday

Now the target was the European Commission and European Union heads of government, a foreign target to unify the land.

She set about them with an energy and self-belief not seen for more than a year.

After a delay caused by electricity problems– ‘a lack of power,’ coughed the presenter on Sky News – Mrs May came into the room through a partition, moving fast.

She bore a glinting, narrowed cast of eye. A farmyard terrier that had espied a big, fat rat. 

A Tomahawk missile in pursuit of Osama bin Laden’s outdoor khazi.

Dress code: black jacket, white shirt, monochromes, no muckin’ about. 

She stood there a second or so before saying anything, weighing the moment, girding herself, quivering. Then a shake of the neck, a lift of chin, and the first word: ‘Yesterday…’

Pah, ‘yesterday’! That was then.

This was now. Their obstructionism had changed the mood. She was setting out the new attitude.

Translation: if they didn’t come up with some constructive thoughts, they could go whistle (as Boris once said).

She allowed herself another tiny pause, so we could compute how fed up she sounded with that emphatic ‘yesterday’, before she continued ‘I was in Salzburg’.

Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attend the European Union leaders informal summit on Thursday

Theresa May arrives for a family photo with other EU leaders. She bore a glinting, narrowed cast of eye. A farmyard terrier that had espied a big, fat rat. A Tomahawk missile in pursuit of Osama bin Laden’s outdoor khazi

Now the target was the European Commission and European Union heads of government, a foreign target to unify the land. She set about them with an energy and self-belief not seen for more than a year

For the shortest of nanoseconds my ear misheard this and I thought she had said: ‘I was insulted’. Which of course she had been. 

Those European men had fouled the air. They had treated her abysmally. 

The personal is political at this level and it is only politicians who have drunk so deeply of federalism who fail to see this. 

She extended a right hand briefly as she explained that she had always said negotiations would be ‘tough’, but for the remainder of her seven-minute performance she let her flashing eyes and vinegary smiles and her shaking head do the body communication.


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Everything about her delivery shouted an exasperated vexation. The only surprise is that it took her so long. 

 ‘The EU is STILL ON-ly OFF-ering us TWO options,’ she said, referring to Brussels’  refusal to contemplate compromise.

The way she hit those syllables accentuated how irked she was. Their intractable approach ‘would make a mockery of the referendum we had two years ago’, she said.

And this was the strongest theme of her remarks: that we had held the biggest vote in our democracy’s history, and they – the Continentals – simply did not comprehend how seriously we Brits took such things. 

The very phrase ‘our democracy’ seemed freighted by an unspoken contrast to the unelected nature of their European project.

God knows how Ted Heath ever thought we would accept it.

Equally, she continued, the Europeans were deluded in thinking any British PM would break up the United Kingdom by forcing Northern Ireland to accept different customs rules. 

‘I will not overturn the result of the referendum,’ she said darkly. ‘Nor will I break up my country.’ When Mrs May is properly angry she angles her head so that she looks almost like a woman riding side-saddle. There was a lot of that yesterday

Everything about Mrs May’s delivery shouted an exasperated vexation. The only surprise is that it took her so long. ‘The EU is STILL ON-ly OFF-ering us TWO options,’ she said, referring to Brussels’ refusal to contemplate compromise

She did not quite say ‘no, no, no’, as Mrs Thatcher once did, but it was the same stern tone of voice, the same logic, the same political pedigree.

We. Are. Sovereign.

‘I will not overturn the result of the referendum,’ she said darkly. 

‘Nor will I break up my country.’

When Mrs May is properly angry she angles her head so that she looks almost like a woman riding side-saddle. There was a lot of that yesterday. 

She laced it with the occasional ironic smile. She spoke some virtuous words of leniency to the EU citizens who live and work in Britain at present. 

She remained within the bounds of reason and Christian propriety. But there was no disguising the fact that Matron was in one Almighty Bate.

Much more of this sort of thing, and the country might almost start cheering.

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