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The end of Theresa May

The vultures of the British conservative party have gathered, and the individual who seemed to thrive in failure, to gain momentum in defeat, has finally yielded. UK Prime Minister Theresa May will leave the way for change of leadership on June 7. Never known for any grand gestures of emotion, the Maybot finally gave way to it.

It had begun rather optimistically in 2016. May would preside over a Britain leaving the European Union in good order. She even dared suggest that an agenda of domestic reform might be implemented. Neither has transpired, and clues were already apparent with the blithely optimistic trio in charge of overseeing the Brexit process: David Davis, as a fabulously ill-equipped Brexit Secretary, Liam Fox holding the reins as international trade secretary and Boris Johnson keeping up appearances at the Foreign Office. But for all that it was May who seemed to insist that all was possible: the UK could still leave the customs union and single market, repudiate free movement and wriggle out of the jurisdiction of the European Court. Independent trade deals with non-EU countries would be arrived at but similar trading agreements could still continue in some form with the EU. And there would be no Irish border issue.

Problems, however, surfaced early. May’s leadership style problematic. Her cabinet reshuffles (read bloodletting) did much to create animosity. Some eight ministers were sacked in the first round, with all but one under 50 at the time. They were, as Stephen Bush puts it, “right in the middle of their political careers, a dangerous time to leave them with nothing to lose.”

Her decision to go to the polls in 2017 to crush the opposition was also another act of a folly-ridden leader. From a position of strength from which she could instruct her party on the hard truths of Brexit instead of covering their ears, she gave Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn ample kicking room to revive his party while imposing upon herself a considerable handicap. EU negotiators knew they were negotiating with a significantly weakened leader.

Then came the cold showers, initiated by such wake-up alarms as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer’s suggestion in 2017 that a transitional phase would have to come into effect after the UK had thrown off the EU. As Starmer observed at the time, “Constructive ambiguity – David Davis’s description of the government’s approach – can only take you so far.”

May duly suffered three horrendous defeats in Parliament, all to do with a failure to pass the Withdrawal Agreement, and fought off the daggers of usurpation within her own party. She had also had to convince the EU that two extensions to Brexit were warranted. The last throw of the dice featured bringing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to the negotiating table. To a large extent, that had been encouraged by the third failure to pass the Withdrawal Agreement on March 29th.

On May 21, the prime minister outlined the latest incarnation of a plan that has never moved beyond the stage of life support. It had that air of a captain heading for the iceberg of inevitability. She remained committed “to deliver Brexit and help our country move beyond the division of the referendum and into a better future.” It was spiced with the sweet nothings of forging that “country that works for everyone”, all with “the chance to get on in life and to go as far as their own talent and hard work can take them”.

She hoped for alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop. The new Brexit deal would “set out in law that the House of Commons will approve the UK’s objectives for the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU and they will approve the treaties governing that relationship before the Government signs them.” A new Workers’ Rights Bill would be introduced to guarantee equivalent protections to UK workers afforded to those in the EU, perhaps even better. No change to the level of environmental protection would take place, something to be policed by a new Office of Environmental Protection. But May’s concessions on the subject of a customs union and a proposed second referendum as part of the package, both largely designed to placate Labour, were too much for her cabinet. Her resignation was assured.

The resignation speech was a patchwork attempt to salvage a difficult legacy. It was “right to persevere, even when the odds against success seemed high.” But it would be for her “successor to seek a way forward that honours the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in parliament where I have not.”

She had led “a decent, moderate and patriotic Conservative government on the common ground of British politics”. She spoke of “a union of people”, standing together regardless of background, skin colour “or who we love”. In an effort to move beyond a pure and exclusive focus on Brexit, she tried to single out such domestic achievements as gender pay reporting and the race disparity audit. This led such conservative outlets as The Spectator to wonder whether such initiatives had “invented victimhood where none existed.”

There will be as many post-mortems on May’s tenure as Brexit proposals. Steve Richards, writing for The New European, felt May never had a chance. It was a period of uncertainty made permanent. With each Brexit secretary resignation, with each parliamentary defeat of the exit plan, “nothing much happened, only an accumulative sense of doom.” That was a ready-made outcome.

The list of contenders seeking to replace May is a who’s who of agents, less of assuring stability than guaranteed chaos shadowed by enormous question marks. Furthermore, anyone willing to offer themselves up for replacement is likely to face similar treatment to that given May.

The current stable of contenders are of varying, uneven talents. Environment secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab were rather late to the fold.  They joined Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart. Political watchers and the party faithful will be keeping an eye on wobbliness and wavering: foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had campaigned in the 2016 referendum to remain in the UK; likewise the self-touted tech-savvy Hancock.

With an individual such as Boris Johnson, you are assured a spell of chaos. Incapable of mastering a brief, his temperament is utterly hostile to stable ministerial appointments. He tries to make up for that with a buffoonish, public school air that treats certain character flaws as gifts of eccentricity. While he is liked amongst the conservative fan base, his parliamentary colleagues are not so sure. The Bold as British formula is only going to carry you so far; the hard negotiators in the EU will attest to that.

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11 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    In her careers as a minister and Prime Minister, May showed herself to be as unpleasant and vile as Margaret Thatcher. Between them they have deferred the chance of another female PM for at least a decade.

  2. Phil

    She makes my skin crawl. She and her husband give a whole new meaning to the word, CREEP. Good riddance. Her successor no doubt Johnson, will make May look like an intellectual.

  3. David Bruce

    May never intended for UK to leave the EU!

    Now Boris and Trump, what a great pair of team players?

    Next step will be London bridge is down (Google it) and everything will descend into chaos. Hope I am wrong?

  4. whatever

    A completely out-of-touch, clueless bunch of backstabbing Conservatives?
    Well, they will probably still get voted in again.

  5. Josephus

    In contrast to the irrelevant ad feminam comments above many acknowledge that May was saddled with the impossible, and deserves respect. Corbyn is viler than she on the whole ( though he alone has promised not to deliver Assange to the Trump regime). May was forced by her deluded party to try to renegotiate her exit deal, and was defeated in the face of multiple, opposing demands as well as the unopposed falsities of the Little Englanders. The lurch to the populist Right in most EU member states has been hindered in Austria alone. The EU cannot undermine its collectively negotiated Treaties at the whim of one member state.

    Now at least one rational and well informed minister is set to resign if buffoon Boris achieves his vaulting ambition. The core problem is that a rash and out of touch former PM failed to understand that the UK is a representative democracy, not a direct one. Parliament is supreme because its members are deemed to be better informed and have wider access to relevant information than the populace at large. Instead Cameron held his vainglorious national opinion poll. Legally speaking his poll or consultation had no more validity than did our SSM poll last year. May should have allowed the Parliament to decide, explaining that she was not bound by a poll. Then she would probably have achieved her Norway or Switzerland solution, or something similar. The UK like these two and Denmark has always been something of an outsider.

    The EU cannot allow a soft border in Ireland. Its external borders have to be near impermeable , exceptions such as the Syrian/Iraqi crisis apart. Only this way can internal borders be mostly taken down. A clear external border has not been achieved however, because the obduracy of Spain has prevented the signing of the External Frontiers Convention. That obduracy can be said to stem also from the equal obduracy of the Gibraltarians, who have refused time and time again to cede their Rock to Spain.
    So May had an impossible task. Just as in Australia a thorough education campaign must precede a referendum on the Voice, so too Cameron should have educated his people on the dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit, rather than let the secessionist populists spread ‘truthiness’ instead of truth.

  6. Josephus

    Why was David’s racist, badly written and mindless claptrap allowed to appear please?

  7. Phil

    In contrast to the irrelevant ad feminam comments above, I have added three long winded paragraphs of utter bollox of my own. But being an insufferable know all is, my stock in trade. ‘ May deserves respect ‘ Yes indeed, just ask the relatives of the 150000 people who died from a result of her and her governments policies. I can only conclude from this utter bollox you are either on drugs or wanking a little too much. Either way stop it.

  8. New England Cocky

    A delightfully accurate analysis of the demise of Maggie May. Plato drinking hemlock would have been an easier political death, I think.

  9. Andrew J Smith

    No sympathy for May who implemented extreme migration related policies while in Home Office (like Australia, influenced by US white nationalists in UK think tanks), but overall better explained by Politics UK’s Ian Dunt:

    ‘May ends her premiership as she started it: With the greatest lie of all. Theresa May announced her resignation as prime minister in the same way she began her term: with the expression of political values she did precisely nothing to promote…..

    …..The Conservative government did not stand in the “common ground” of British politics. From the moment of her 2016 conference speech, when it was clear that ending free movement overrode all other political considerations, she made it a formal policy to sabotage Britain’s trading status and economic and legal structure in order to reduce immigration.’

    https://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2019/05/24/may-ends-her-premiership-as-she-started-it-with-the-greatest

  10. Frances

    T. May took on the PM job when no one else would, too difficult.

  11. Zathras

    The whole Brexit exercise was one of disinformation, mishandling and the work of various interest groups and they’re stuck with it.

    It was heavily promoted around the immigration factor with little consideration for the economic consequences – which could be dire and long-lasting and is likely due to those “remain” voters who were too lazy or confident to vote when they had the chance.

    If the EU had any sense they would stop granting extensions and kick Britain out so it can move on with its own business without the continuing uncertainty among its member states.

    Theresa May shed tears – but only for herself and not those others who have been at the sharp end of many of her other poor decisions.

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