British PM Theresa May has confirmed the inevitable: She will step down soon. After a series of setbacks, which saw the House of Commons (equivalent of Lok Sabha) vote down her Brexit proposals multiple times as well as vote to take more control of the process, the question for months was when than if. May has answered that: June 7.
The ruling Conservative Party will have to choose a new leader to take over. A frontrunner is former foreign secretary Boris Johnson. If that does happen, the burden of steering Britain out of the EU will fall on his shoulders, and some would see that apt as Johnson was one of the strongest voices against EU ahead of the 2016 referendum that voted for Brexit.
In April, the 28-member European Union had given UK an extension of six months to thrash out Brexit. The new deadline thus is October 31. Which means the British Parliament will have time until then to vote on a Withdrawal Agreement that would lay down the terms on customs, trade, and civilian movement between EU and Britain post the exit. Or the new PM will have to go back to talks with the EU for a new agreement and then vote on it. As long as there is no second referendum — highly unlikely — Britain is exiting EU. How and when, that’s unanswered.
Looking back over the 34 months Theresa May spent as Britain’s Prime Minister, it’s hard to pick a low point.
Was it the Conservative Party conference in October 2017 when she couldn’t stop coughing, a protestor hijacked her big speech and the lettering behind her peeled off the wall?
Was it the day President Donald Trump announced his arrival to the U.K. with a newspaper interview in which he poured scorn on her Brexit plan, just a few hours before they were due for a joint press conference?
Was it the time she arrived in Brussels for a high stakes meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, only to momentarily find herself trapped inside her car while the world’s media looked on?
It’s tempting to think May was chosen to succeed Cameron as Prime Minister as the unity candidate — the experienced cabinet minister whose past fence-sitting on Brexit meant she could unite her divided party. But May won the contest because her rivals self-immolated in a frenzy of backstabbing and electioneering. Her victory came because she was the last person standing, not necessarily the best.
She began her premiership still attempting to straddle the divide in the Conservative Party, with so much caution that she won herself the nickname “Theresa Maybe.” But she soon sided with the hardliners agitating for a harder Brexit, egged on by the frenzied editors of Britain’s mass-market tabloids.
With the Labour Party seemingly in decline under far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, May was persuaded by her advisors to capitalize on the moment and call an election that would not just expand the Conservative majority, but also give her government a mandate for a clean break with the E.U. The Daily Mail exhorted her in a screaming front-page headline to “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS.”
But the vote turned out to be an act of self-sabotage. The electorate defied the polls and gave Corbyn’s Labour Party more support — though not enough to form a government. Instead, a weakened Conservative Party had to partner with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to govern as a minority.
As negotiations with the E.U. leadership continued, it became evident that the balance of power laid with the 27 nations united against the U.K. May was forced to bend to reality, and hammer out a hard compromise that all parties could settle on. But the U.K. parliament could not agree on a majority for anything related to Brexit, least of all the status of Northern Ireland — the key sticking point in the talks.