Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 26 August 2019

Theresa May: From Benazir Bhutto to Brexit

The Prime Minister says she will resign if parliament backs her Brexit deal

Theresa May leaves parliament after telling Conservative members she is prepared to step down. Reuters.  
Theresa May leaves parliament after telling Conservative members she is prepared to step down. Reuters.  

Theresa May has played her final hand, succumbing to Brexiteers within her party and pressure from the opposition, desperately offering to resign so long as they vote for her European Union withdrawal agreement.

In recent weeks and months she has become increasingly exasperated by hardcore factions within the Conservatives who have refused to back down from their no-nonsense Eurosceptic approach. She joins former leaders David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher in leaving high office over the European Union.

But Mrs May has warned of the divisions in her party before.

In one her first speeches as Conservative Party Chairwoman in 2002, she shocked an audience by saying the Tory’s were seen as ‘The Nasty Party’ intent on “petty feuding or sniping instead of getting behind a leader”.

“Why has the public become so cynical about politics and politicians?” she asked her fellow party members.

“If we're being honest I think we know the answer. In recent years a number of politicians have behaved disgracefully and then compounded their offences by trying to evade responsibility. We all know who they are.”

Perhaps compounding the barrage of abuse she faces is that some colleagues, who admired her dedicated if slightly awkward persona, were among those to admit they could no longer support 62-year-old Mrs May.

The only child of a Conservative supporting mother and clergyman father, she was born in the seaside town of Eastbourne perhaps better known as a place to retire rather than a breeding ground for future Prime Ministers.

Both her parents died in the 1980s, her father in car accident. Mrs May always lamented that her parents never saw her take political office, whether as a local councillor in the borough of Merton, MP for the traditionally safe seat of Maidenhead from 1997 onwards or as Home Secretary and finally Prime Minister.

She was educated at a state school in Oxfordshire, in contrast to many holders of the highest positions in government who often attend esteemed and exclusive private schools known as hotspots for future leaders.

Speaking to the Telegraph in 2012 while describing her secondary education, Mrs May said: “I shouldn’t say it, but I probably was Goody Two Shoes.”

It was at Oxford University, where she studied Geography, that she met her husband. Legend says that Pakistan’s former leader and then-student Benazir Bhutto did the matchmaking.

She also spent time with future MPs such as Richard Harrington who left his role as a business minister earlier this week, frustrated by Brexit.

“At this critical moment in our country’s history, I regret that the government’s approach to Brexit is playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country who are employed by or otherwise depend on business for their livelihood,” he said in his resignation letter.

He told Mrs May a failure to secure a hard deal and to rule out a hard Brexit had resulted in a “sense of ridicule for British business”.

In an interview with the London Evening Standard soon after he said the Prime Minister was a ferociously hard worker with no vices and few distractions, but holding a somewhat distant approach to governance.

At Oxford at the same time were Damian Green, Mrs May’s one-time de-facto deputy, Dominic Grieve, a vocal backbench critic of the governments Brexit approach and Sir Alan Duncan, currently a foreign office minister.

She became an MP in 1997, quickly climbing up the ranks and was made Home Secretary by David Cameron in 2010. The London riots of 2011 were among her most challenging moments.

Whatever difficulties she faced then, it was nothing compared to the turmoil of replacing Mr Cameron in 2016 when the public voted to leave the EU.

She was constantly accused of failing to listen to parliament and accused by Brussels of intransigence. Senior ministers such as Boris Johnson and David Davis would quit, severely disgruntled at Mrs May’s Brexit proposals and a chaotic no-deal still remains a possibility. If she does resign, Mrs May leaves a deeply divided Conservative Party.

The problems she railied against during that famous 2002 speech appear to mirror those that preceded her downfall.

Updated: March 28, 2019 08:39 PM

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