May read­ies for last throw of the dice

Herald Sun - - SATURDAY - ELLEN WHIN­NETT ellen.whin­[email protected]

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.

THERESA MAY

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