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Last week saw the finale to Theresa May’s shaky time at Downing Street as she announced she would be stepping down before her fourth Brexit bill was presented to Parliament. After three failed attempts, May has simply run of options, and now leaves the country more divided than when she succeeded David Cameron in 2016. What initially seemed so hopeful, with Brussels approving her Brexit deal in November, has since become a domestic mess, with May fighting both Labour and the mutiny that has erupted within her own party.
After losing her past three Brexit attempts in Parliament, Mrs May’s resignation before attempting her fourth is evidence that she has no audience left to attract, and no Tory MPs foolish enough to remain by her side as she sinks.
May has been under pressure to resign for months now. Fading from the commanding figure she started out as to a PM that could only hope for compromise, she appears to be running from, rather than dictating, the fight. Her revised withdrawal bill offered the Labour left strengthened workers’ rights, while simultaneously sweetening remainers by providing an option for MPs to vote for a second referendum. Her desire to please everyone has ultimately alienated her from both sides. As some 20 MPs step forward into a leadership race, the breadth of unhappiness and distrust within the Tory party is blatantly evident.
Ending her resignation speech holding back tears, she shakily said that being Prime Minister had been ‘the honour of [her] life’, resigning ‘with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have…serve[d] the country I love.’ The speech showed the toll of the job upon her, but ultimately her inability to present a strong head during a time of polarization and instability.
Following her speech, Tory MPs have come forward presenting their suits in advance of the leadership contest. While Boris Johnson remains the favourite to succeed, others, such as Dominic Raab, have warned MPs of their desire to carry out a no-deal Brexit if successful. Raab’s attempt to outgun Boris by vowing that he ‘will not ask for an extension’ is intended to provide a strong, clear voice on an increasingly messy issue. He added how difficult for parliament it would be to ‘legislate against a no-deal’. It seems few are championing a no-deal exit, yet everyone will agree that they are preparing for one.
Already, the likes of Nigel Farage have re-arisen to political forefront with his youthful Brexit Party. Their focus appears to be enticing disenfranchised Leave voters whose patience has grown thin. Their success in the EU elections is testament to the divide within British society, with Farage aiming his campaign at those who cannot wait any longer for Brexit to be enforced.
As Mrs May’s three years come to an end, she is forced to counteract the momentum the Brexit Party is building. The Tories must now either adopt Farage’s Brexit approach, and prepare to leave without a deal, or swiftly elect a competent leader who can take the PM seat and regain control of the sinking Tory ship. Johnson has argued he is ‘the only person who can beat Farage’, but can he realistically organise those who support a no-deal agreement, into a coherent and organised force against him? If he is to fail, then the prospect of a general election looms ever more daunting for the Conservative Party.