British PM’s time in power nears end with Brexit saga unresolved

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at a European Parliament election campaign event in Bristol, England, on May 17, 2019. — AFP pic
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at a European Parliament election campaign event in Bristol, England, on May 17, 2019. — AFP pic

LONDON, May 17 — Beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May’s tenure appears all but over after Britain’s opposition Labour Party quit Brexit compromise talks today and said it would oppose her EU divorce deal once again.

The Conservative leader has previously won praise for her determination and ability to survive what has often felt like a three-year political crisis since the referendum vote.

But her approach to the Brexit endgame, refusing to accept MPs’ trenchant opposition to her deal before belatedly opening ultimately futile negotiations with Labour, has left May politically abandoned.

Meanwhile by twice delaying Britain’s exit from the European Union, she has prompted frustration and anger among Brexit supporters and ridicule from Remainers.

In a forlorn bid in March to appease the most ardent eurosceptic MPs in her party, May offered to resign if they finally approved her deal.

But several dozen rebelled anyway, consigning it to a third defeat in parliament and leaving her mortally weakened.

This week she agreed to set out a timetable for the election of a new leader once lawmakers have held a fresh vote on the agreement in early June, but rival Tories are already jockeying for the succession.

“It’s hard to see her surviving more than two or three weeks now and the chances of her plan passing now must be close to zero,” said Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London.

‘Goody two shoes’

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, May was born on October 1, 1956 in Eastbourne — a seaside town in southern England where her father was a chaplain at the local hospital.

She has described herself in interviews as a “goody two shoes” whose Protestant faith defined her upbringing.

She listened to cricket matches on the radio with her father and knew that she wanted to become a politician when she was just 12.

May studied geography and met her husband Philip at Oxford university before joining the Bank of England.

The two never had children and May devoted herself to a life of public service that saw her become Conservative Party chairwoman in 2002.

May made her first splash by telling her Tories at an annual conference to stop being “the nasty party” if they wanted to unseat then-popular Labour leader Tony Blair.

But her 2010-16 stint as home secretary saw May adopt isolationist rhetoric that included a vow to create “a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.


May took office in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum which swept away her predecessor David Cameron.

Despite having campaigned to stay in the EU, she 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 she lost her parliamentary majority.

May 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.

Naturally reserved and reliant on her husband and a few close aides, she often says she is just quietly “getting on with the job”.

But in the last election, the leader struggled to engage with voters and was dubbed the “Maybot” after churning out the same answers and speeches over and over again.

‘Failed utterly’

May has been written off before, with columnist Matthew Parris — a former Conservative MP — calling her the “zombie prime minister” for her ability to stagger on despite multiple attacks.

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 Conservatives in December, a victory that made her immune from a similar challenge for a year.

However, in a sign of May’s soaring unpopularity, party power-brokers are considering changing the rules to make another earlier contest possible if she refuses to go.

“It looks like she’s failed, and failed utterly,” added Bale.

“History’s judgement is unlikely to be any less harsh to her than most of her colleagues and most voters are right now.” — AFP