May readies for last throw of the dice
SHE has survived scandals, losing majority government, mass Cabinet resignations and an attempted coup by Tory rebels.
Her Conservative government has been found guilty of contempt of parliament for the first time in British history.
But on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May faces her greatest challenge yet when parliament votes to endorse her plan for how Britain should exit the European Union.
Every sign points to the deal being voted down, although by what margin is unclear.
What is clear is next week shapes as a monumental one in British politics, which could see a Brexit deal, a snap general election, a second referendum, a no-deal, an offthe-cliff-edge Brexit, or a new PM.
May, 62, has until Tuesday to convince hostile MPs her Brexit deal is the best they’re going to get.
“We should not let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people,” she said this week.
So heroically lacking in charisma that she’s known as the Maybot, May has eschewed any phony charm offensive and instead gone for pure pragmatism, urging MPs to “do their duty” and deliver the results the people voted for in 2016 when they voted, narrowly, to leave the European Union.
Senior lecturer in government at the University of Essex, Tom Quinn, said next week loomed for May as “the most serious threat to her premiership to date”.
“It is hard to see how she survives the fall of a deal in which she has invested so much political capital,” Dr Quinn said.
“It is not yet clear what the Plan B is if May’s deal fails, but whatever it is, it would almost certainly need a new prime minister to advocate it.”
Britain’s first female prime minister since the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, May won the Tory party leadership in 2016 after David Cameron quit over the Brexit referendum result.
Her rival, Andrea Leadsom, stood aside after a newspaper interview where she intimated she would make a better prime minister than May because May didn’t have children. (May has previously spoken of her sadness that she and husband Phillip May were unable to conceive.)
She voted Remain, although was a “Eurosceptic”, and the price of winning the Tory leadership was the job of trying to manage Britain’s divorce from the EU.
Untangling the tens of thousands of laws and regulations which keep the UK bound to the 27 other countries of the bloc has brought her to the brink of political oblivion numerous times, and her latest deal, which legal advice shows would potentially tie the UK to the EU “indefinitely” through a backstop, has succeeded in uniting Brexiteer and Remain MPs against her.
But May has continued to fight for the plan, and is spending five days in the House of Commons pleading her case, talking economy, trade, financial markets, immigration, and always appealing to the head and not the heart. It’s how she’s spent her entire career.
THE only child of an Anglican vicar and a housewife, Theresa Mary Brasier was born on October 1, 1956, in Eastbourne in Sussex, a bright child who later went to Oxford University to study geography.
It was here she met her husband, fellow student Phillip May, after their mutual friend, future Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, introduced them at a dance. Phillip later said it was “love at first sight”.
They married in 1980. She refers to her financier husband as her rock.
She was orphaned at the age of 25 when her parents died a few months apart — her father in a car accident, and her mother from the effects of multiple sclerosis.
Like her husband, she enjoyed a successful career in finance, and entered politics in 1997 when she first won her seat of Maidenhead in wealthy west Berkshire, west of London, where her constituents include disgraced Australian children’s entertainer Rolf Harris, and the residents of the Queen’s weekend home, Windsor Castle.
May was famously quoted in 2002 as the first female chair of the Conservative Party, commenting that they must no longer be known as the “Nasty Party”. She was reportedly wearing her trademark leopard-print heels, which she often pairs with sober suits and pearls.
Yet it is her lack of drama, the sense of “keep calm and carry on” British resilience that has won her admirers in recent weeks.
Dr Quinn said the “Maybot caricature” was largely a creation of mass and social media.
“She is not in any way charismatic,” he said. “On the other hand, there is a strong sense that many ordinary voters, whatever they think of May’s policies and government, admire her resilience and perseverance despite all the brickbats thrown at her.”
Brickbats will fly on Tuesday when May’s deal goes before the Commons. Labour has threatened a vote of no-confidence if the deal fails — as it almost certainly will. But it seems unlikely all Tories who vote against the deal, and their DUP minority government partners, would bring her down.
Dr Quinn said while there was talk of sending May back to Brussels to seek minor changes in the event of a narrow defeat, such an outcome was unlikely. Anyway, the EU had already said this was the best they could offer.
“If May’s deal is heavily defeated next week, it is very difficult to see how she can continue as prime minister,” he said.