The Advertiser - - WEEKEND EXTRA - WORLD -

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.’’

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