BFF-03, 04 British PM isolated as Brexit strategy hangs in the balance

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British PM isolated as Brexit strategy hangs in the balance

LONDON, March 25, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Accused of presiding over an
unprecedented national humiliation in her chaotic handling of Brexit, British
Prime Minister Theresa May’s hold on power appears increasingly endangered.

The Conservative leader has in the past won praise for her determination
and ability to survive what has often felt like one long political crisis
since the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union.

But her approach to the Brexit endgame, doggedly seeking to force through
parliament her divorce deal despite MPs twice rejecting it and agreeing to
delay Britain’s planned March 29 departure, has prompted frustration and
anger on all sides.

Following a particularly chaotic last week even for May’s crisis-plagued
tenure, speculation is rife late that Conservative colleagues are trying to
force her to resign.

The Sunday Times reported she was “at the mercy of a full-blown cabinet
coup”, with plans afoot for her de facto deputy David Lidington to take over
in a caretaker capacity.

The newspaper said it had spoken to 11 senior ministers who “confirmed
that they wanted the prime minister to make way for someone else” and planned
to confront her at a cabinet meeting on Monday.

To May’s critics, her uncompromising attitude in the face of a faltering
strategy encapsulates her broader limitations as a political leader at this
pivotal moment.

“At first she appeared to be a unifier, but she turned out to have too
little courage, imagination or skill to lead the Brexit negotiations,” said a
recent editorial in the Conservative-backing Spectator magazine.

It has reluctantly urged MPs to back May’s unpopular deal, but only so
that Britain could “turn the page on this unhappy chapter of our political
history”.

– ‘Closed door’ –

May took office after the 2016 referendum, and despite having campaigned
to stay in the EU, embraced the cause with the mantra “Brexit means Brexit”.

Her promise to leave the EU’s institutions and end free movement of
workers delighted eurosceptic MPs, but caused dismay among many pro-
Europeans.

The splits in her Conservative party became a serious problem after a
disastrous snap election in June 2017, when May lost her parliamentary
majority.

She was forced to strike a deal with Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and since then has struggled to keep her
party and its allies together.

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Naturally reserved and reliant on her husband Philip and a few close
aides, May often says she is just quietly “getting on with the job”.

But in the last election, she struggled to engage with voters and was
dubbed the “Maybot” after churning out the same answers and speeches over and
over again.

Matthew Parris, an anti-Brexit former Conservative MP who now writes for
The Times, said he once thought May was a merely an “unremarkable” politician
dealing with a tough situation.

But he said her inability to engage with colleagues had exacerbated
divisions over Brexit, describing her as “the living embodiment of the closed
door”.

– Seemingly impossible –

May survived a confidence vote in December among her own MPs over her
Brexit deal and is immune from a similar challenge for a year.

She was forced to promise to quit before the next scheduled election in
2022, however, and even then, one third of her MPs voted to unseat her.

Meanwhile, her EU divorce deal remains deeply disliked.

Given her waning authority, “her hinting she’ll go if she loses doesn’t
help her”, said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College
London, who predicts her deal will be sunk again if it is brought back for
vote.

But May has been written off before.

She survived the resignations of a string of high-profile Brexit
supporters, notably former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and has endured
constant sniping from MPs on the sidelines.

Her supporters note that getting a deal at all with the EU, after
Britain’s biggest peacetime negotiations, was a huge feat in itself.

If she finally gets it approved at the third attempt, she will rightly
claim a major victory.

However pressure will quickly mount again given the drawn-out nature of
Brexit, noted Simon Usherwood, politics professor at the University of
Surrey.

“Things will be even more difficult if she gives any sign… that she is
considering her position, as her party will take it as the starting pistol on
a leadership contest,” he told AFP.

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