The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, now grapples with the gravest tragedy of her political career.
She was in tears on Friday as she signalled her intent to step out of 10 Downing Street on 7 June. Brexit has been the defining chapter of her stint in office. And yet she has made herself vulnerable to a debunking of her premiership, as has seldom happened before. Chiefly, her attempt to take Britain out of the European Union has been a colossal failure.
If trends at this juncture are any indication, Brexit will almost certainly do her in. This is the bitter irony of British and European constitutional history, verily a phase that is riveted to an individual, indeed the head of government. That phase is now nearing its end three years after the affirmative “Yes” vote in the referendum (23 June 2016).
That English summer of hope has now given way to a season of a Brexit that is beyond hope. It would appear in retrospect that Mrs May was unable to fully realise how difficult the process would be if the consummation, that was devoutly to be wished for, was to attain fruition. And this has doubtless played a major role in her downfall which has not been sudden.
If her position as Prime Minister has been fragile for the past three years, the distinctive signals of Brexit’s roller-coaster narrative made it pretty obvious that she had become increasingly wobbly at the knees. Rather than convince the political class and the British generally, she had alienated herself with the rhetorical flourish ~ “Brexit means Brexit” and “No deal is better than a bad deal”. Of course these made smart headlines when they did.
Actually, however, she appears to have been poorly advised by ideologues as she was confronted with the hard realities of economics and diplomacy. The country now faces a Conservative contest for leadership. The candidates will have to appeal to their parliamentary colleagues and then to a membership numbering little more than 120,000. The Tory “electorate” doesn’t quite represent a crosssection of the country.
Small wonder that the party’s voters have been referred to as being “older, whiter and richer than the average citizen”… who had voted in the referendum. A majority of card-holders among Conservatives are also happy that they will proceed with a no-deal Brexit, acutely aware as they are of its direly adverse consequences. The Conservatives are sure to demand certain pledges before giving the nod to the next resident of Number 10.
Which could be Boris Johnson, said to be the bookmakers’ favourite. At the end of the day, the Brexit imbroglio boils down to a vote of confidence within the Conservatives. The next Prime Minister is poised to inherit what has been called a miserable and poisonous legacy. No, that wasn’t Mrs May’s intention. Yet it is the way history often works.