Vastavam web: Accused of presiding over an unprecedented national humiliation in her chaotic handling of Brexit, British Prime Minister Theresa May has all but lost control of her party and her government. The Conservative leader has in the past won praise for her determination and ability to survive what has often felt like one long political crisis since the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union.
But her approach to the endgame, refusing to accept MPs’ opposition to her divorce deal and agreeing to delay Brexit to try for a third time to get it through, has prompted frustration and anger on all sides. Ministers from both the pro- and anti-Brexit camps in her cabinet have in recent weeks joined scores of Conservative MPs in defying the government in parliamentary votes. In an editorial, Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine suggested May was the “worst prime minister in our history”.
It condemned her “lack of imagination, inability to lead a team or solve complex problems” — although it also accused the ruling party itself for failing to find a better leader. May’s former director of communications, Katie Perrior, wrote in The Times newspaper that the prime minister was “a passenger at the time when the country needed a rally driver”. She backed a suggestion made by some MPs that May offer to quit if parliament backs her divorce deal, allowing someone else to lead the next stage of the EU negotiations. “She has lost the backing of much of the country and now her party,” the paper said.
May took office after the 2016 referendum, and despite having campaigned to stay in the EU, embraced the cause with the mantra “Brexit means Brexit”. Her promise to leave the EU’s institutions and end free movement of workers delighted eurosceptic MPs, but caused dismay among many pro-Europeans. The splits in her Conservative party became a serious problem after a disastrous snap election in June 2017, when May lost her parliamentary majority.
She was forced to strike a deal with Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and since then has struggled to keep her party and its allies together. But in the last election, she struggled to engage with voters and was dubbed the “Maybot” after churning out the same answers and speeches over and over again.
May’s legacy from her previous role as interior minister has also been called into question in recent months, with growing criticism of her crackdown on irregular migration. However, May has been written off before. She has survived the resignations of a string of high-profile Brexit supporters, notably former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and has endured constant sniping from MPs on the sidelines.
She won a leadership challenge within her own party in December, a victory that made her immune from a similar challenge for a year, even if she had to promise to quit before the next scheduled election in 2022. As a result, it is not clear how MPs might depose her now if she refuses to quit.
May’s critics are deeply divided, and their inability to unite behind a rival candidate has foiled previous attempted coups. Her finance minister, Philip Hammond, condemned any talk of replacing May as “self-indulgent”, warning that the problem remained what to do about Brexit.