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Matt Bejang
Matt Bejang

Theresa May: A Prime Minister in Turmoil - The Inside Story of Her Brexit Negotiations and Resignation - Available in epub, mobi, pdf and fb2

Theresa May: Power, Post-Brexit

Theresa May was the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 2016 to 2019, during one of the most turbulent and divisive periods in British history. She took office after the referendum on leaving the European Union (EU), also known as Brexit, which resulted in a narrow victory for the Leave campaign. She pledged to respect the will of the people and deliver Brexit, but she faced numerous obstacles and challenges along the way. Her attempts to negotiate a deal with the EU that would satisfy both sides of the debate proved futile, as she faced opposition from within her own party, from Parliament, from the public, and from the EU itself. She eventually resigned after failing to get her deal approved by MPs three times, leaving behind a legacy of controversy and uncertainty. This article will explore how Theresa May rose to power, how she handled Brexit, how she fell from grace, and how she will be remembered.

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The rise of Theresa May

Theresa May became the prime minister in July 2016, after David Cameron resigned following the Brexit referendum. She had been a member of Parliament since 1997, representing Maidenhead in Berkshire, and had held several cabinet positions under Cameron, including home secretary from 2010 to 2016. She was widely seen as a competent and experienced politician, who had managed to survive in one of the toughest jobs in government for six years. She was also regarded as a pragmatic and moderate Conservative, who had supported remaining in the EU during the referendum campaign, albeit in a low-key manner.

She won the Conservative leadership contest after her rivals dropped out or were eliminated by party MPs. She faced no challenge from the wider party membership, who had been expected to vote between her and Andrea Leadsom, a prominent Leave supporter. Leadsom withdrew from the race after making controversial comments about motherhood that were seen as an attack on May's childlessness. May became Britain's second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher, who had led the country from 1979 to 1990.

May inherited a difficult political situation, as the country was divided over Brexit and the government had no clear plan for how to implement it. She also had a slim majority in Parliament, which made her vulnerable to rebellions from her own MPs, especially those who had strong views on Brexit. She faced the daunting task of negotiating a deal with the EU that would honour the referendum result, protect the UK's economic and security interests, and maintain the integrity of the UK as a union of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

May set out her vision for Brexit in a speech at Lancaster House in January 2017, where she declared that "Brexit means Brexit" and that the UK would leave the EU's single market and customs union, as well as the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. She also said that the UK would seek a new and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, as well as a new security partnership. She said that no deal would be better than a bad deal, and that she would trigger Article 50, the legal process for leaving the EU, by the end of March 2017.

The Brexit dilemma

May's approach to Brexit was based on two assumptions: that she could secure a favourable deal with the EU that would meet her red lines and satisfy her party and Parliament; and that she could persuade the public to back her deal and move on from the referendum. Both assumptions proved to be wrong.

The Chequers plan

After months of internal discussions and negotiations with the EU, May presented her proposal for a future UK-EU relationship in July 2018, at a cabinet meeting at her country residence, Chequers. The plan, known as the Chequers plan, aimed to balance the UK's sovereignty and economic interests by proposing a "common rulebook" for goods and agricultural products, which would allow frictionless trade with the EU, and a "facilitated customs arrangement", which would enable the UK to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU for goods destined for the bloc. The plan also proposed a "joint institutional framework" for resolving disputes and ensuring consistent interpretation of rules, as well as a "mobility framework" for allowing people to travel and work in each other's territories.

The Chequers plan was met with criticism from both sides of the Brexit debate. Many Leave supporters, including some cabinet ministers such as Boris Johnson and David Davis, resigned in protest, arguing that the plan would keep the UK too closely aligned with the EU and prevent it from striking its own trade deals with other countries. They also claimed that the plan would undermine the UK's sovereignty and democratic accountability, as it would require following EU rules without having a say in them. Many Remain supporters, on the other hand, argued that the plan would leave the UK worse off than staying in the EU, as it would lose access to some of its benefits, such as services and financial markets, while still having to abide by some of its obligations, such as budget contributions and free movement.

The EU also rejected the Chequers plan, saying that it was unworkable and incompatible with its principles and rules. The EU insisted that the UK could not cherry-pick parts of the single market and customs union without accepting all of its responsibilities and obligations. The EU also raised concerns about how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state, after Brexit. The EU proposed a "backstop" arrangement that would keep Northern Ireland aligned with some of the EU's rules and regulations, in order to prevent physical checks and infrastructure at the border. However, May rejected this idea, saying that it would create a border in the Irish Sea and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK.

The withdrawal agreement

Despite these difficulties, May managed to reach an agreement with the EU on the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the bloc in November 2018. The agreement, known as the withdrawal agreement, covered three main areas: citizens' rights, financial settlement, and the Irish border. The agreement guaranteed that EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU would retain their rights after Brexit; that the UK would pay a "divorce bill" of about 39 billion to settle its outstanding commitments to the EU; and that there would be a backstop for Northern Ireland, which would come into effect if no alternative solution was found by December 2020.

The withdrawal agreement also included a political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, which outlined their shared objectives and principles for cooperation on trade, security, defence, foreign policy, and other areas. The political declaration was not legally binding, but it provided a framework for negotiating a detailed agreement after Brexit.

The withdrawal agreement faced fierce opposition from many MPs across different parties, including some of May's own allies. Some MPs argued that Here is the continuation of the article. the agreement would trap the UK in a permanent customs union with the EU, which would prevent it from pursuing an independent trade policy and limit its sovereignty. Some MPs also argued that the agreement would threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland, by creating different regulatory regimes for different parts of the UK. Some MPs wanted a closer relationship with the EU, such as staying in the single market and customs union, or holding a second referendum to confirm or reverse the Brexit decision. Some MPs wanted a more distant relationship with the EU, such as leaving without a deal or renegotiating a better deal.

May tried to persuade MPs to back her deal by appealing to their sense of duty and pragmatism. She argued that her deal was the best and only deal available, that it delivered on the referendum result, that it protected jobs and security, and that it respected the integrity of the UK. She also warned that rejecting her deal would risk either a no-deal scenario, which would cause economic and social disruption, or no Brexit at all, which would undermine democracy and trust in politics.

However, her efforts were in vain, as her deal was rejected by Parliament three times, in January, March, and May 2019. Each time, she faced a historic defeat, with more than 200 MPs voting against her deal. She also faced several defeats on other Brexit-related motions, such as ruling out a no-deal exit, extending the Article 50 deadline, and holding indicative votes on alternative options. She tried to reach out to other parties and factions to find a compromise solution, but she failed to win enough support for any of them.

The fall of Theresa May

As May's Brexit strategy unravelled, she faced increasing pressure from her own party and the public to resign over her handling of Brexit. She also faced criticism for her leadership style, which was seen as rigid, secretive, and stubborn. She was accused of being unable to communicate effectively, to listen to different views, to build consensus, and to inspire confidence. She was also blamed for neglecting other domestic issues and priorities, such as health, education, housing, and social justice.

The leadership challenge

In December 2018, May faced a vote of no confidence from her Conservative MPs, after more than 15% of them submitted letters to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Tory MPs. The trigger for the challenge was her decision to postpone a parliamentary vote on her deal, which was widely expected to be defeated. The challengers argued that she had lost the trust and support of her party and that she should make way for a new leader who could deliver Brexit.

May survived the vote by 200 votes to 117, securing the backing of more than half of her MPs. She vowed to carry on with her mission to deliver Brexit and to seek reassurances from the EU on some aspects of her deal. However, she also acknowledged that she had lost some support from her party and that she would not lead them into the next general election, which was due by 2022.

In May 2019, after her deal was rejected for the third time by Parliament, May agreed to set a timetable for her departure as prime minister and party leader. She made this concession after meeting with senior members of the 1922 Committee, who urged her to clarify her plans for leaving office. She said that she would resign after putting her deal to a fourth vote in Parliament in early June 2019.

The resignation speech

However, before she could hold another vote on her deal, May announced her decision to resign as prime minister and party leader on 24 May 2019. She made this announcement after facing a backlash from her own cabinet ministers and MPs over her latest attempt to win support for her deal. She had offered some concessions to try to appeal to different groups of MPs, Here is the continuation of the article. such as holding a vote on whether to hold a second referendum, or seeking a temporary customs union with the EU. These concessions angered many of her supporters, who saw them as a betrayal of her previous promises and a surrender to the demands of her opponents.

In her resignation speech, May said that it was in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead the next phase of Brexit negotiations. She expressed regret that she had not been able to deliver Brexit, but defended her efforts as being in good faith and in the national interest. She also highlighted some of her achievements in other areas, such as tackling domestic abuse, modern slavery, racial discrimination, mental health, and climate change. She said that she had done everything she could to make the UK a country that works for everyone, and that she was proud to have served as prime minister.

May was visibly emotional as she concluded her speech, saying that she had been honoured to serve the country that she loves. She said that she would remain in office until a new leader was chosen by her party, which was expected to take several weeks. She then walked back into Downing Street, holding hands with her husband Philip, who had been by her side throughout her premiership.

The legacy of Theresa May

Theresa May's legacy as prime minister will be largely defined by her failure to deliver Brexit and to unite the country and her party over this issue. However, there are also other aspects of her tenure that deserve attention and evaluation. Her legacy can be seen from both positive and negative perspectives, depending on one's views and values.

The positive aspects

Some of the positive aspects of May's legacy are:

  • She tried to deliver Brexit in a pragmatic and responsible way, respecting the referendum result while seeking a close and cooperative relationship with the EU. She also tried to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, as well as the peace process in Northern Ireland.

  • She championed some social causes and reforms that were often overlooked or neglected by previous governments, such as tackling domestic abuse, modern slavery, racial discrimination, mental health, and climate change. She also launched an industrial strategy to boost productivity and innovation in different sectors of the economy.

  • She showed resilience and determination in the face of adversity and criticism, often from her own colleagues and allies. She endured several setbacks and humiliations, but she never gave up on her mission and her duty. She also showed dignity and grace in her resignation speech, acknowledging her failures but also highlighting her successes.

The negative aspects

Some of the negative aspects of May's legacy are:

  • She failed to unite the country and her party over Brexit, and instead deepened the divisions and polarisation that existed before and after the referendum. She also failed to reach out to other parties and stakeholders to build a consensus or a compromise on Brexit, relying instead on her own narrow majority and red lines.

  • She lacked vision and charisma as a leader, and was unable to communicate effectively or persuasively with the public or with other leaders. She was seen as rigid, secretive, and stubborn, unwilling or unable to adapt to changing circumstances or to listen to different views. She was also blamed for calling a snap general election in 2017, which resulted in her losing her majority and weakening her authority.

  • She neglected other domestic issues and priorities that were important for the well-being and prosperity of the people, such as health, education, housing, and social justice. She also presided over a period of austerity and uncertainty that affected many public services and sectors of society.

The comparison with other leaders

Theresa May can be compared with other female prime ministers, Here is the continuation of the article. such as Margaret Thatcher, and other Brexit-related leaders, such as Boris Johnson.

May is often compared with Thatcher, who was also a Conservative leader and a strong-willed woman who faced many challenges and controversies during her time in office. However, there are also many differences between them. Thatcher was a radical and ideological leader, who transformed Britain's economy and society with her free-market and anti-union policies. She was also a staunch defender of Britain's sovereignty and interests in Europe, famously demanding "I want my money back" from the EU budget. She was also a charismatic and confident leader, who won three consecutive general elections and led Britain to victory in the Falklands War. She was eventually ousted by her own party over her unpopular poll tax and her opposition to further European integration.

May, on the other hand, was a more pragmatic and moderate leader, who tried to balance different interests and views on Brexit and other issues. She was also more supportive of Britain's membership of the EU, although she also wanted to reform some aspects of it. She was also a less visionary and inspiring leader, who struggled to communicate her message and to win public support. She only won one general election, which resulted in a hung parliament and a reliance on a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. She also faced several crises and setbacks during her premiership, such as terrorist attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, and the Salisbury poisoning.

May is also compared with Johnson, who succeeded her as prime minister and party leader in July 2019. Johnson was one of the leading figures of the Leave campaign during the referendum, and a vocal critic of May's Brexit deal. He resigned as foreign secretary in 2018 over his disagreement with the Chequers plan, and became one of the frontrunners for the Tory leadership after May's resignation. He won the contest by promising to deliver Brexit by 31 October 2019, "do or die", and to renegotiate a better deal with the EU. He also pledged to unite the country and his party over Brexit, and to unleash Britain's potential as a global power.

Johnson is often seen as the opposite of May in terms of personality and style. He is a charismatic and flamboyant leader, who uses humour and rhetoric to appeal to his supporters and to deflect criticism. He is also a risk-taker and an opportunist, who is willing to break rules and conventions to achieve his goals. He is also a controversial and divisive leader, who has been accused of lying, cheating, racism, sexism, and incompetence. He has also faced several challenges and scandals during his premiership, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court ruling that his prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, and allegations of corruption and cronyism.


Theresa May's premiership was dominated by Brexit, which proved to be an impossible task for her to accomplish. She tried to deliver Brexit in a way that would respect the referendum result while maintaining a close relationship with the EU. However, she failed to secure a deal that would satisfy both sides of the debate, or that would pass in Parliament. She also failed to unite the country and her party over Brexit, or to address other domestic issues that mattered to the people. She eventually resigned after losing the support of her own MPs and ministers over her Brexit strategy.

Theresa May will be remembered as a prime minister who faced an unprecedented challenge with resilience and determination, but who lacked the vision and charisma to overcome it. She will also be remembered as a prime minister who tried to balance different interests and views on Brexit, but who ended up pleasing no one. She will also be remembered as a prime minister who championed some social causes and reforms that were often overlooked or neglected by previous governments.

Brexit will continue to shape Britain's future for years to come, as well as its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. The outcome of Brexit will depend on how the current and future leaders of Britain negotiate with the EU and other partners, as well as how they manage the economic and social consequences of leaving the bloc. It will also depend on how the people of Britain respond to Brexit, whether they accept it or reject it, whether they embrace it or regret it.


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