Nobody’s perfect: nobody said it was going to be easy being prime minister, says Michael Wilson.

Mike Wilson, Editor of IFA Magazine
Mike Wilson, Editor of IFA Magazine


Some people, it seems, really do have greatness thrust upon them. A year ago, if somebody had told you that Hammond and May would soon be running the country, you might have been idly moved to ask what Clarkson would be doing? But time, inevitably, wears away at the flippancy of questions like that. These days it’s the USA that’s being run like a game show, and the UK that’s trying determinedly to stick to the programme schedule despite a series of late and urgent newsflashes that keep on disrupting the show.

Now, I’ll admit that IFA Magazine has not always been kind to Theresa May in the past. We’ve called her dogmatic, overbearing, unelected, and not always good at choosing her battles. Maggie May, we christened her just a few months ago, and it was only half in jest.

And a Remainer, to boot! Which didn’t seem like a promising starting point for the leader who would take us out of the EU, and who would be required to face down 27 other member states who had no great incentive to make concessions for us. It was always going to be a job for somebody with the ability to go selectively deaf while fearlessly repeating her mantra, over and over again in the teeth of hostility. And the odd thing is, Prime Minister May is turning out to be rather good at that.

Faults and all

She still makes dreadful mistakes. Her insistence that she’d rather have no EU agreement at all than one which didn’t meet all her requirements has struck terror into the CBI, which is quaking at the prospect of going off an export cliff without a hang-glider. Chancellor Philip Hammond has been forced to bite his lip at his boss’s refusal to bend on the European banking passport. And May’s faith that Donald Trump will fully honour America’s special relationship with a post-Brexit Britain is currently costing the Whitehall mandarins no end of sleep.

The Budget decision to clobber the mainspring of UK enterprise and initiative by landing extra taxes onto self-employed workers and risk-takers was always indefensibly clumsy. But it was about to get worse.

Mutiny below decks

This Welcome article very nearly ended with a stalwart hail to HMS Brexit, as her Master and Commander steered her bravely out into the Channel to do battle. At which point, unfortunately, she hit the dockside in a big way.

Just as we were going to press, Hammond abruptly withdrew the proposed changes to self-employed national insurance contributions, leaving a £2 billion per annum hole below the waterline which he had no obvious way of filling . And chief Brexit negotiator David Davies confessed to Parliament that he hadn’t bothered to buy any nautical charts – or rather, that the government hadn’t even attempted to weigh up the cost of a hard Brexit. But that no deal at all would definitely leave carmakers facing 10% tariffs and dairy and meat producers up to 40% worse off on their EU export efforts.

At which point Boris Johnson came above deck to splutter that Brexit with no deal would be “perfectly OK”. Only to walk into a straight punch from Davies, who said he only dealt in fact, and that “throwaway lines in interviews” weren’t helping matters.

The two were still scrapping as we went to press. And as the ship left port for the conflict zone, Cap’n May seemed to have her hands more than full. Not so much Top Gear as Carry On Up the Continent. Good luck with that one, Ma’am.

Michael Wilson


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