By Marwan Asmar
In a sordid kind of way the resignation of British Prime Minister Theresa May could be a Godsend for Brexit and the future of the UK with Europe.
While this maybe difficult to grasp, in the end it was her failure to achieve a consensus on leaving the EU that led to her exit, pushed forcefully by members of her own Conservative Party who came to see May as a political liability the longer she stayed in office.
What led to all this was the Prime Minister’s blinkered vision and narrow-mindedness in wanting to stick to implementing, chapter and verse, the results of the 2016 British referendum to get the UK out of the European Union. Being a good democrat, May believed she needed to implement the wishes of the British people and leave the EU as soon as possible regardless of how this came about and with the minimum of fuss and heartache.
But this was wishful thinking. It wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed at first for putting aside the negotiations with the European Commission and Council that govern Europe, both the British people and the MPs in the House of Commons started to have second thoughts and couldn’t exit Europe laying down.
The latter couldn’t basically agree on how to Brexit without losing out on the best deal. While May got an agreement with Europe, the British Parliament thought this was not good enough and wanted to renegotiate and continue to reassess the “technicalities” of leaving the EU with the issues of borders trade deals, economic sovereignty with regards to Northern Ireland, all hitting a brick wall.
This has been the “nuts and bolts” of Brexit ever since a deal was negotiated with Europe by the Prime Minister. The agreement was put to the British parliament three times and was rejected on all of these occasions including by large members of her Conservative Party. There seemed to have been a bipartisan rejection with the opposition Labour Party. On the fourth time, May had no choice but to submit her resignation reluctantly, and which she did so with her voices cracking up and tears welling up in her eyes. She saw her failure to sway the MPs as a personal affront rather than just political interests.
But questions quickly come to mind. If the outgoing Prime Minister had all along knew that the British Parliament were not happy with the way Brexit was handled why not try and renegotiate it with the European Council instead of submitting it again and again to the House of Commons to be rejected. To be fair to her, the EC stood its grounds and sought only what’s good for Europe.
Many later came to argue this presented itself as a peculiar trait in the psyche of the prime minister, showing her as stubborn and obdurate, unwilling to listen to the voices and soundbites of the nation. For her, Brexit was a policy that needed to be implemented at whatever political cost and in spite of its deleterious effects. It showed a distinctly parochial attitude that didn’t take into account the changes in the climate of society. Many saw May as throwing in the towel in front of European bureaucrats and what was needed, was a tough Teflon factor approach for the best deal.
As well, this was compounded by the fact that her whole approach showed she had a fickle nature despite her determination and dogmatism. Before she got to be prime minister in 2016, she was actually against Britain leaving the European Union as a political, economic and social bloc. This since proved a point of contention bordering on a character flaw because politicians just don’t “chop and change” and within a short span of time.
The whole Brexit business turned out to be shambles, negatively reflecting on Britain, its politicians and people, giving the distinct belief that the body politic and society couldn’t make up their minds about anything.
The whole Brexit business turned out to be shambles, negatively reflecting on Britain, its politicians and people, giving the distinct belief that the body politic and society couldn’t make up their minds about anything. This was indeed a period of political fluidity and uncertainty of how to move forward and how Britons saw themselves both in the country, vis-a-vis Europe and in the world. It was all about what to do with Brexit with important domestic policies left on the sidelines.
Ruptures from the different corners of the political landscape became to be magnified and within members of her own Conservative Party with ministers - and important ones - first triggered by the resignation of Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, and a host of others like Jeremy Hunt and the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and then the Conservative House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom. This was seen as a political showdown against the views of Theresa May and the establishment.
Many of those, though Johnson appears to be the favourite, are gearing up to be chosen as the next prime minister and he is likely to take up the Brexit file with a great deal of force, aiming to get Britain out of the EU with or without a deal by this October. But this is probably easier said than done. The Brexit file and its trepidations are likely to follow Britain from now on as a ghost that will not go away.
The Brexit file and its trepidations are likely to follow Britain from now on as a ghost that will not go away.
Meanwhile May is likely to continue to lick her wounds in a cabinet that almost focused on the European issue and nothing else. Although she has held a number of ministerial portfolios including that of a Home Secretary, critics have since said she wasn’t somebody prone to compromise although she would dispute that; nor was she somebody who would build up “cordial relations” with her ministers and officials which is what is needed to be a politician in order to pass your policies and point of views.
Hence, in politics you need to build alliances and she didn’t do that. Thus, she was short-changed particularly when ministers started resigning and that meant she didn’t command the loyalty that was needed.
But aside from that, experts argue the job of prime minister was practically dumped on her in 2016 when James Cameron, the then leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister called for a referendum on the EU and which over 50 percent of Britons voted to leave. This surprised him and he immediately resigned.
However, it must be remembered that leaving the EU is not a singular affair but a process involving a broad political spectrum. Let’s see how the next prime minister fairs on this crucial aspect.
Thus, May was given what become known as an exceedingly difficult and complex job to do. It needed a great deal of experience, politicking, building alliances, dealing and wheeling within her party and outside it. The fact she tried to persuade parliament time and again is not for the lack of trying but in the end she failed and realised that she must go and give the reigns of power to somebody else.
This episode will likely add much to her political experience but at a great price that finally cost her the job of prime minister. So is it worth it? She will likely be remembered as having failed to get the job done. However, it must be remembered that leaving the EU is not a singular affair but a process involving a broad political spectrum. Let’s see how the next prime minister fairs on this crucial aspect.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.
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