Theresa May never stood a chance at leading Britain through Brexit
For three long years, Theresa May withstood persistent public humiliation like no other British prime minister in recent memory. As prime minister, she never lost her composure as the press, politicians, and the public chastised her for nearly everything she did and would say. When May announced her resignation, after failing three times to get her Brexit deal to leave the European Union passed through parliament, she did so with tears in her eyes while standing in front 10 Downing Street. The steely persona that she exhibited in public during her three-year torment had finally broken. Brexit and sexism got the best of Theresa May.
Brexit has now cost two British prime ministers their jobs. May assumed office in June 2016 following David Cameron’s resignation. Cameron resigned following Britain’s shocking vote to leave the European Union. After Cameron lost he thought it would be best for national stability to cut and run like a toddler who just broke a lamp. When the going got tough the man left and the woman stepped-up.
May grasped the reins of power with one over-arching goal: to deliver Brexit to the United Kingdom. She failed to achieve that goal in spectacular fashion.
Ironically, May handed over power to the man who played a primary role in her consistent public humiliation, Boris Johnson. May, after all, gave Johnson a seat at the table as her foreign secretary, only to watch him stab her in the back when he resigned in 2018. Now, with May gone, Johnson inherits the dreadful responsibility to guide the UK out of the EU.
The process of leaving the EU has been nothing but a train wreck for the UK. Brexit has impacted the country socially, economically, and politically. Impacts so staggering and uniquely self-inflicted that it would cause some to dream of ripping up the Magna Carta, and allowing Queen Elizabeth II to take the wheel all while she wears a tiara.
Theresa May was supposed to be the PM who steadied the ship, but in hindsight, she was doomed from the start. She was surrounded by empty, male, vessels. Yet, all those empty vessels converged and created a grenade to her leadership that she was unable to recover from.
Her tenure was filled with inaction by her mostly male opponents. While she proposed plans, her opponents didn’t. When she detailed what Brexit should look like, her opponents didn’t. When she asked what they wanted, her opponents wouldn’t say. Then, when she finally presented her plan on leaving the EU, the parliament failed to pass it. She remained publicly stoic as her plan and reputation were raked through the coals within the halls of Westminster.
May had a plan, while the men didn’t. The conservative party is divided over Brexit. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has routinely failed to put together a coherent position on Brexit. Corbyn even went so far as to, under his breath, call May a “stupid woman.” Lurking underneath the resistance to May’s plan was the idea that a man could get a better deal out of Europe. Given those difficulties, and the unbearable stench of sexism, it’s no wonder May thrice failed to pass her Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Beyond the sexism and lack of leadership from her opponents, Theresa May’s tenure will be defined as a time when Britain’s political institutions are in chaos, and confidence in Parliament is so low that it’s reached the Earth’s core. One of the core messages of Brexit was for Britain to become completely self-sufficient in the decision-making process of anything from trade to immigration. The other core message for Brexit was for Britain to strengthen its identity. But now, because of politicians and forces on all sides, Britain’s identity is in crisis not because of Europe, but because of Britain.
She has left the office with a country whose national identity grasping for attention and definition. Her successor Boris Johnson might not simply oversee Brexit, but oversee a period where Scotland and Northern Ireland leave the UK. Once and for all the sun may truly set on the British empire. Not least because men wouldn’t take a female leader seriously.