ELLEN WHIN­NETT

PLENTY RID­ING ON MAY’S GAMBIT FOR BREXIT

The Courier-Mail - - NEWS - writes Ellen Whin­nett

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 UK his­tory. But on Tues­day, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May will face the great­est chal­lenge yet to her sur­vival when the Par­lia­ment votes on whether to en­dorse her plan for ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union. The vote on the deal comes amid ris­ing pub­lic fears. Re­ports this week tell of peo­ple stock­pil­ing food and medicine among con­cerns of block­ages at ports and other ac­cess points next year when the break is ac­ti­vated. While every sign points to the deal be­ing voted down, by what mar­gin is un­clear. What is clear is next week is shap­ing up to be a mon­u­men­tal one, 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. 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 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 re­sult the peo­ple chose in 2016 when they voted, nar­rowly, to leave the EU. Dr Tom Quinn, a se­nior lec­turer in gov­ern­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Es­sex, says next week looms 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,” Quinn tells Insight. “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 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 leader than May be­cause May didn’t have chil­dren. (May has spo­ken of her sad­ness that she and hus­band Phillip May were un­able to con­ceive.)

She had voted Re­main, although pro­fessed to be­ing a “Euroscep­tic”, and the price of win­ning the Tory lead­er­ship was the job of try­ing to man­age the UK’s di­vorce from the EU 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. 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 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 in Sus­sex, a bright child who later went to Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity to study ge­og­ra­phy.

It was there she met her fu­ture hus­band, fel­low stu­dent Phillip May, af­ter their mu­tual friend, fu­ture Pak­istani prime min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto, in­tro­duced them at a dance. Phillip 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 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 say­ing, as the first fe­male chair­man of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, they must no longer be known as the “Nasty Party”.

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.

“She doesn’t emote in the way of many con­tem­po­rary politi­cians and she can cer­tainly ap­pear a bit stiff,” Quinn says.

“She is not in any way charis­matic. 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.”

The brick­bats will cer­tainly 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.

How­ever, it seems un­likely all the Tories who vote against the deal – and their North­ern Ire­land Demo­cratic Union­ist Party mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment part­ners – would then be com­plicit in bring­ing down the prime min­is­ter.

Quinn says the mar­gin of de­feat will 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 says while there is talk of send­ing May back to Brus­sels to seek mi­nor changes in the event of a nar­row de­feat, such an out­come is un­likely. And any­way, the EU has al­ready said this is the best they can of­fer.

“If May’s deal is heav­ily de­feated next week, it is very dif­fi­cult to see how she can con­tinue as prime min­is­ter,” he says. “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 reach 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.”

NO DEAL: Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May is fac­ing a tough course to de­liver a work­able exit from the EU; Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn holds his own hard line; pro-Brexit demon­stra­tors out­side Par­lia­ment this week. Pic­tures: AFP

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