What does Theresa May’s resignation mean for Brexit and the UK?

Published: May 27, 2019
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Theresa May reacts as she delivers a speech announcing her resignation. PHOTO: GETTY

Theresa May’s resignation has prompted a mixed reaction. There are those who suddenly feel sympathy for a woman they were berating just days earlier, and there are those who remain steadfast in their criticism. I, for one, don’t feel sorry for her, nor do I harbour any anger about her handling of the Brexit deal. The simple fact is that no one could have done this impossible task any better.

May was elected leader of the Conservative (Tory) Party on a campaign of uncompromising, understated competence. That was her appeal and it made her stand out from the barrage of jostling egos which had been destined to go for the top job at some point or another. What’s also remarkable is that she had done this from the pulpit of the Home Office, commonly known as the graveyard for ambitious Tory leaders. Expectations were high and people were expecting her to carry out a Brexit deal with a steely resolve, something she was also adamant on doing.

May inherited a country that has not been this divided in living memory. The 52-48 result of the Brexit referendum essentially drew the battle lines for the coming few years and, as someone who voted for Britain to remain in the European Union (EU), May was unable to appease either group. She had betrayed those who wanted her to steer the country towards as soft a Brexit as possible, and she was never going to be the darling of the Brexiteers who viewed her with suspicion from the off. Her thankless task was made impossible because compromise was seen as defeat by all sides.

After the messy back and forth brought about by her own Brexit deal, calls for a second referendum heightened. The poles were moving further apart and the normally industrious May was unable to bridge the gap. Add a media character assassination to the cocktail and the inevitable was long spelt out for May.

So, what will her resignation mean? Well, to the liberal cheerleaders rejoicing at the fall of this longstanding opponent of the left, the future is not bright. There are two moulds of leaders waiting in the flanks. The first are the zealous Brexiteers who want to ride the global phenomenon of populism, no matter how corrosive or divisive their politics may be. Boris Johnson, the membership’s favourite, has said himself that October will mark the end of Britain’s relationship with the EU. The second are the Remainers, who will be acutely aware of how May was viewed with suspicion from the get-go and will overcompensate by being particularly keen to assuage the concerns of the enthusiastic Brexiteers.

What we had with May, whether viable or not, was a sense that reason could prevail over the hollow slogans of “Brexit means Brexit”. The next leader of the Tory party will have no choice but to pander to the baying masses of hard line Brexiteers.

The new leader of the Tory party will have two choices: either doggedly continue on the mantle of “getting the job done,” or to call a general election during their honeymoon period. A general election will be a risky move for any prime minister, given the groundswell of dissatisfaction with how the party has essentially damaged the well-being of the United Kingdom due to infighting.

Jeremy Corbyn is, of course, waiting in the wings and has refused to openly support a second referendum. The Labour Party leader has weathered some pretty hefty challenges to his leadership. Most recently, some key figures in his party abandoned ship and helped some renegade Tories form the Independent Group.

Nevertheless, Corbyn’s trump cards are his party members, whose passion for him hasn’t dithered since his first election. He himself is a Brexiteer, albeit for completely different reasons to the average Brexit voter. Corbyn became a reluctant Remainer for the sake of party unity and this reluctance has carried on to the newest demand of the left wing; a second referendum to sort out this mess. His deputy leader has said that Labour’s chances are extremely thin next time around, unless they boldly declare for a second referendum. Corbyn is unlikely to move from his position and hopes for a second referendum will almost disappear because May’s replacement will inevitably be elected as a Brexit enforcer who will not even consider such a vote as a viable option.

Let us also not forget the ever malevolent figure brooding in the background. Nigel Farage will be savouring the demise of the Tory leader and will be looking forward to any general election with his new Brexit Party. His entire career has been built on simple platitudes such as “Brexit means Brexit”or “Leave means Leave,” and no doubt he will be drubbing both of these down the throats of the electorate in a general election. Sadly, I feel the simplicity of his message will strike a chord with Brexiteers who feel betrayed by the political establishment. They feel that the delay in the implementation of Brexit was an inside job to keep their demands at bay. Farage provides a voice to these people and if he weathers his party’s most recent issues regarding funding, then I have no doubt that he will enjoy some success in the near future.

This episode is just one symptom of the gradual decline of Britain’s reputation abroad. The infighting, bickering and altogether nonsensical self-harm has left a once good reputation in tatters. Britain once used to dictate to other countries from the pulpit of stability and resolve, but now people have to wonder what lies in store for this divided nation.

There are parts of the UK that are operating on fundamentally differing world views, morally, socially and economically. Of course, opportunistic politicians are stoking the fires of disunity and there is no compromise in sight. May’s departure is a sign that pragmatism and compromise are now dirty words and that what lies in store is more confusion and an even more divided UK.

Mustafaen Kamal

Mustafaen Kamal

The author is currently a student at Oxford University and has previously graduated from the London School of Economics. He has founded the Dil Internship Project and is a Laidlaw Scholar at Cambridge University. He tweets @MustafaenKamal (twitter.com/MustafaenKamal)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.