Brexit, the short for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, destroyed the career of a second British Prime Minister on Friday. Mrs. Theresa May, after three turbulent years in which her energy was consumed by Brexit, finally threw in the towel. She ends her premiership on June 7 and the search for a successor will begin on June 10.
Her predecessor, a shining star of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, was the originator of Brexit. He imprudently set in motion the Brexit whirlwind which subsequently destroyed his career.
Observers of British politics were wondering why British position on Europe had been fatal to the political careers of most Conservative Party prime ministers for 40 years beginning with Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, and John Major, before Brexit was invented. May’s three attempts on Brexit did not succeed.
She was about to launch a fourth attempt, but her “new” Brexit deal faced a groundswell of hostilities from all sides. She had planned to table it for debate and a vote in the first week of June. But Tories saw it as nothing different from the three they had rejected. Many were also irritated that she offered a second referendum, which was anathema to Tories. Labour did not cherish the “new” deal either. Even May’s offer on workers’ rights and environmental protection did not excite Labour because it had been promised before.
The more MPs heard of the new deal, the worse they liked it and the less they wanted May to continue. The push by Tory back-benchers and resignations from her cabinet, especially the Commons Leader, Andrea Leadsom, finally sealed her fate. On Thursday, the London Daily Telegraph called for her resignation in an editorial. The need for her resignation had become a national emergency, the paper said. The Telegraph is considered the most influential Conservative mouthpiece.
Even the most casual observer would not miss the political disarray that is now the lot of the United Kingdom and with it many uncertainties. A new political party, the Brexit Party, was making waves in the European election last week and may have elected majority of the British seats in the European Parliament. The Tories won less than 10 per cent of the votes. The Brexit Party Leader, Nigel Farage, is the Brexit champion whose anti-Europe views are well known. He, in alliance with the former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, was the arrowhead of the Brexit campaign in 2016. And contrary to popular opinion, the Brexit Party is not a single issue party and seems to be nursing bigger ambitions to dislodge the two dominant parties – Labour and Conservative parties.
The most confounding part of the Brexit debate is that the British have become a hostage of the referendum. There can be no doubt that Britons are divided between a majority who see Brexit as a Trojan Horse and would have made a different decision in 2016 and a minority to whom the referendum is sacrosanct. The result is that no political group is pushing for freedom from the Brexit entrapment or a new referendum. The most probable successor to May, barring all unforeseen circumstances, is Boris Johnson (with six other contestants). He is ambitious, experienced and has enough following to lead the Tories. He has his weaknesses but being a committed Brexiteer, he seems not fazed by even a disorderly Brexit. A ‘no deal Brexit’ would have the same or worse consequences as the 2008-9 economic and financial meltdown, economists seem to agree. Already a ‘Stop Boris’ campaign has begun.
The unforced errors of Brexit are many but two are glaring. David Cameron did not have to call the Brexit referendum in the first place. May did not have to call for a general election when she came to power. We think the driving force behind Brexit seems to be the ego of Conservative leaders.
The EU was good for Britain. It provided the country its biggest market; it guaranteed peace and security. Last week’s European election was apparently a reflection of British opinion on Brexit. The Brexit Party took only 35 per cent of the votes. The ‘Remain’ parties won 40 per cent. Labour (14.14 per cent) is divided as are the Conservatives (8.7 per cent). But more Labour leaders are speaking out and urging the party to take a clear stand for a second referendum which would enable the British people express their true wishes now that they have an idea of the ramifications of Brexit.