DEAL OR NO DEAL
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, UK Prime Minister Theresa May will face the greatest challenge yet to her survival when Parliament votes on whether 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 that next week is shaping up to be a monumental one in British politics, which could end with a Brexit deal, a snap general election, a second referendum, a no-deal, off-thecliff-edge Brexit, or even a new prime minister.
Mrs May, 62, has until Tuesday to convince hostile MPs that 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.
So heroically lacking in charisma that she’s known as the “Maybot”, Mrs 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 narrowly backed leaving the European Union.
Tom Quinn, the senior lecturer in government at the University of Essex, said next week loomed as “the most serious threat to Mrs May’s 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,’’ he said.
“It is not yet clear what the plan B is if her deal fails, but whatever it is, it would almost certainly need a new Prime Minister to advocate it.’’
Britain’s second female Prime Minister since “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, Mrs May won the Tory party leadership in 2016 after David Cameron quit in response to the Brexit referendum result.
Her rival, Andrea Leadsom, stood aside after a newspaper interview where she intimated she would make a better Prime Minister because Mrs May didn’t have children. (Mrs May has previously spoken of her sadness that she and husband Phillip were unable to conceive.)
She had voted to remain in the EU, although professed to being a “Eurosceptic’’, and the price of winning the Tory leadership was the job of trying to manage Britain’s divorce from the European Union after 45 years.
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 Remainer MPs against her.
But Mrs 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 Church vicar and a housewife, Theresa Mary Brasier was born on October 1, 1956, in Eastbourne, Sussex, a bright child who later went to Oxford University to study geography.
It was here she met her future husband, fellow student Phillip May, after their mutual friend, future Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, introduced them at a dance. Mr May later said it was “love at first sight’’.
They married in 1980 and have been inseparable for the past 38 years. 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. She was famously quoted in 2002 as the first female chairman of the Conservative Party, commenting that they must no longer be known as the “Nasty Party’’. She was reportedly wearing her trademark leopardprint heels, which she often pairs with sober suits and pearls. She worships regularly, saying her Anglican faith is “part of me’’. She doesn’t network with other politicians or drink with them, and had to be pushed hard in a media interview to reveal the “naughtiest’’ thing she ever did. “I mean, you know, there are times when ... I have to confess, when me and my friend, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat,” she eventually admitted. “The farmers weren’t too pleased about that.” It is precisely this 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 media and social media. “She doesn’t emote in the way of many contemporary politicians and she can certainly appear a bit stiff,’’ he said. “She is not in any way charismatic. “On the other hand, there is a strong sense that many ordinary voters, whatever they think of Mrs May’s policies and government, admire her resilience and perseverance in spite of all the brickbats thrown at her.’’ The brickbats will fly on Tuesday when Mrs May’s deal goes before the Commons. Labour has threatened a vote of no-confidence if the deal fails – as it almost certainly will. However, it seems unlikely all the Tories who vote against the deal, and their DUP minoritygovernment partners, would then be complicit in bringing down the Prime Minister.
Dr Quinn said the margin of defeat would be the key to what happens next.
“If it is a heavy defeat – say, over 100 votes – it will look very difficult to resurrect the deal or anything similar to it,’’ he said.
Dr Quinn said while there was talk of sending Mrs 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.
“She might tender her resignation or face a confidence vote among Conservative MPs.
“Some believe that it might ultimately come down to a choice between ‘leave without a deal’ or a second referendum.
“But before we reached that point, an early general election (under a new Conservative leader) would probably take place, with each party seeking a mandate for its own preferred way forward.’’