The Globe: The Fall of Theresa May
From the moment British Prime Minister Theresa May first stepped into 10 Downing Street as the head of government back in July 2016, she was doomed to fall to the chaos of Brexit. Brokering a deal that Brits were hotly divided on was a monumental task that no one could have pulled off. The derisiveness of exiting or remaining was transported from the streets to the halls of Westminster Abbey where the parties tore into each other. Sealing PM May’s fate was the in-fighting within her own ruling Conservative Party (Tories) that prevented them from taking a firm stance against Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. Now the race is on to find out which unlucky Tory will have the pleasure (or hell) of being the country’s next sacrifice in order to achieve Brexit -- whatever that might entail.
The outgoing Prime Minister rose to power in the wake of the Brexit referendum. Former PM David Cameron led the Tories and the country on fighting to remain but resigned after the referendum to leave the EU was successful. Enter Theresa May, a Member of Parliament (MP) since 1997 who went on to become Cameron’s Home Secretary -- a position that oversees the internal affairs of England and Wales, along with immigration and customs enforcement. PM May’s experience as Home Secretary made her the ideal candidate to lead her through the delicate dance that is leaving the European Union with a deal that would satisfy Parliament and not wreck the British economy.
Throughout the Brexit chaos that engulfed British politics since 2016, Theresa May made one mistake after another. Indeed, the Prime Minister seemed oblivious to the enormity of the task she was given after she stated that it will be an “easy” deal. This was obviously not the case. Her Conservative Party was divided into different factions with their own idea of what Brexit should be, or if there should even be a Brexit in the first place. The two main Brexit coalitions in the Tories are the European Research Group (ERG) and the Brexit Delivery Party (BDP), among others. As the largest pro-Brexit party, the ERG under Jacob Rees-Mogg’s leadership has consistently been a thorn in May’s side, killing the Prime Minister’s March deal.
Known as May’s last-ditch effort to deliver Brexit before the end of March deadline, the deal sought to compromise with the factions in and outside of her party. It would have kept the UK in a customs union with the EU while it navigates the process of leaving, provided guarantees to workers’ rights, environmental protections, and the Irish backstop that would preserve a “frictionless border” that does not interrupt the flow of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Such a deal was popular, according to a 2018 poll that found that a third of British voters preferred a soft exit deal (43 percent approval). But as we now know, the ERG, BDP and other hardliners would not tolerate any deal that did not entail a hard-exit.
Then there is the Labour Party, led by the vexing Jeremy Corbyn. As the main opposition party to the Tories, Labour supported a “soft”-exit from the EU. Corbyn’s party sought to keep the country in a customs union as May’s last ditch effort included. But the progressive party took a major drumming in the recent EU elections, which resulted in the party losing several seats to the hard-line Brexit Party and the pro-remain Liberal Democrats. Corbyn himself suffers from a severe approval deficit, specifically because of his Brexit stance.
The shortlist to replace May is anything but short. The field is crowded with several big names, including: Boris Johnson (May’s former Foreign Secretary and ex-Mayor of London); David Lidington (the PM’s Deputy); former leader of the House of Commons and May’s original contender in 2016, Andrea Leadsom; Home Secretary Sajid Javid; environment secretary Michael Gove, and the list goes on. The front-runners so far are Johnson and Lidington. Johnson has long been a supporter for a hard-exit, while Lidington is a staunch ally of Premier May as they both voiced opposition from leaving the EU in 2016. We should find out soon who will replace May after she officially steps down on June 7th.
While May did fail spectacularly in her job, I still admire her in some ways. As a fellow type 1 diabetic, the Prime Minister was an inspirational figure because she proved you can still make it to the top even with a potentially life-threatening illness that is by no means a cake walk. She was also a reluctant warrior in the fight for Brexit. May never wanted her country to leave the EU, but nonetheless sought to carry out the will of the nation. However, there are some sore spots besides the whole debacle over leaving or remaining. May has voiced support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen which resulted in the conflict-shattered country to top the list of most fragile states in the world. This travesty of a conflict has doomed the Yemeni people and the UK’s support of Saudi Arabia by supplying arms will forever be a dark-spot on the country’s affairs.
Britain will either end up staying in the EU, or it will leave with a hard exit. Sadly for May, her career is one of many casualties that will be consumed by the quest to separate the United Kingdom from the European Union. Whoever takes up the crown (or mantle) to lead the country out of this mess will have to expect heavy opposition from all sides. I expect this to play out either two ways: Britain will leave the EU with no deal, or it will somehow remain as if it had never happened to begin with. To borrow a quote from Game of Throne’s Cersei Lannister: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”