Theresa May’s Brexit deal was dead. Dead as a doornail.
Yet of all the good days in the year, on Christmas eve the Prime Minister still sat in her Downing Street office, the door open that she might keep an eye on her clerks.
Gavin Barwell and Robbie Gibb sat in the light of a very small fire, barely visible in the shadows cast by piles of draft Withdrawal Agreements, assurances and side-letters, backstops to the backstop, and flowcharts pointing at different fates for May.
Hands freezing, backs bent, they scratched out desperate plans to force her deal through the Commons. Scurrying over the floorboards in the dark, damp corners, whips searched for votes.
May’s phone vibrated and cast a shaft of light into the darkness – a text. “You don’t have to do this, Theresa. I’m just trying to help. Merry Christmas, TB.”
“Nothing has changed!” she wheezed, firing back: “Keep Brexit in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
Leaving her clerks to their work, May climbed the stairs to her apartment to take her melancholy dinner and try and unwind in front of a relaxing episode of ‘Naval Crime Investigation Service (NCIS)’.
No sooner had she nodded off than May was awoken by a clanking, thudding sound on the stairs, growing closer, and louder, relentless and doom-laden, like the Telegraph comment section.
Through her closed bedroom door a figure appeared, and the blue TV light crackled and leapt as though it cried: “I know him; Nick Timothy’s ghost!”
The same beardy face, the same name. The chain her former special adviser drew was clasped about his middle and dragged bundles of newspapers.
“But Nick,” May whimpered, cowering, “you’re in chains.”
“It is required of every man,” Timothy replied, “that if they are not self-aware in life, then it is condemned to be after death.”
The spectre raised a cry and shook its columns. “I wear the chain I made in Downing Street,” it said; “I made it line by line, blame by shifted blame.
“I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate,” Timothy went on. “You will be haunted by Three Spirits.”
May awoke with a start, but before she could convince herself it was a dream, light flashed and the curtains of her bed were drawn. She found herself before a strange figure, with a face like child, yet not so like a child as like an old man.
“David,” she said, recognising her predecessor. “Are you a spirit, too?”
“I am the Ghost of Brexit Past,” David Cameron intoned. “Yours, thankfully, not mine.”
She took him by the hand and the pair flew into the past, alighting first at a 2016 meeting with Goldman Sachs bankers, where she warned Brexit would deter investment in the UK, then to a speech where she warned of the risks to EU-wide security cooperation.
On to her first Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, where she said “Citizens of the World” were really “Citizens of Nowhere”, and then back to Downing Street. “Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?” For this was where May called an election accusing the EU of undermining Brexit, then lost her majority.
May awoke for a second time, and found her bedroom filled from top to bottom with angry men in suits, discussing in the most extravagant and overflowing terms exactly how they were going to dispose of her. “Come in!” exclaimed the weird and not-at-all-jolly giant presiding over the European Research Group. “I am the Ghost of Brexit Present, and we’re going to feed you into a wood chipper.”
Issuing bloody threats all the while, the spirit showed May ordinary families ruining their Christmas dinners with arguments about Europe, plotting MPs, fruit crops rotting in polytunnels, and more angry figures in yellow vests shouting about betrayal.
“All this is possible thanks to you; isn’t it great?” the Ghost said. “Can’t wait to boil you in a pot.”
And suddenly, he was gone. Lifting up her eyes, May beheld a solemn phantom, draped and hooded, coming towards her like a mist along the ground that has somehow managed not to be sacked. “Jeremy?” she asked. “But you’re a Remainer!” Jeremy Hunt answered not, but gave a hooded, sepulchral shrug.
“Ghost of Brexit that is Yet to Come!” May exclaimed. “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.” And truly, the sights of no-deal Brexit Britain chilled May to the bone.
She was transported back to her Commons office, but behind her desk Prime Minister Tom Tugendhat had his head in his hands. His government of national unity, formed in the wake of splits in the two main parties, was collapsing. Amid a stack of resignation letters were demands from Nicola Sturgeon for a Section 30 order, and calls from Sinn Fein for a border poll in Northern Ireland.
In the streets, protesters gathered round skips filled with burning copies of David Cameron’s memoirs for warmth. There were no negotiations with the EU; Brussels was in chaos since the far right surged in European elections. Nor was President Pence in a position to offer a trade deal, what with the legal trouble.
The spectre took May to conflicts in Ukraine and Yemen, where the UK had given up any pretence of exerting its influence. And they visited China, which continued to suck up production and jobs as the West dismantled the world trade system it had designed. Actually, they went to Japan first before Hunt worked out his mistake.
“Good spirit,” May cried when she had seen these things; “Assure me that I may yet change these shadows. I will live in the past, present and future. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
She awoke with a start again, and knew things were different. Flinging open the window of Number 10, she made a series of unnatural jerking movements, like a jostled shop mannequin about to topple over.
“But darling,” cried her husband Philip, “you’re dancing with joy! And only last night you were so despondent.”
Beaming, she turned to him. “I know what I have to do.”