Early Friday morning, outside the steps of 10 Downing Street, Theresa May brought the unmitigated disaster of her premiership to an abrupt and ignoble end. Three years ago, the day after 52% of Britons voted for divorce from the European Union, May inherited a deeply divided populace, a disintegrating political party, and a country flung into chaos by its own hand. By every measurable metric, she has left the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Conservative and Unionist Party with it, in a worse state than when she found it.
Brexit, and the failure to deliver it, defined her brief time as Prime Minister, and consumed it. She has remarkably little to show for her time in office otherwise; few, if any, domestic achievements. That includes her lost parliamentary majority from the ill-advised snap election of 2017. By the time the weekend is out, she’ll have been crushed in an election she didn’t intent to contest by a party that, six weeks ago, didn’t exist. History may be kinder to Theresa May than we are today, perhaps seeing her through the lens of a tragic figure. Practically every misstep was one of her own doing, from calling the snap election to triggering Article 50 to continuing to sell her deal to Parliament.
The end of May will come at the beginning of June, one day after the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The race for the keys to Number 10, and perhaps the most thankless job in global politics, is on already. Five candidates have confirmed their intention to stand for the leadership of the Conservative Party, with more presumably on the way. Those who gamble on politics, rather than in them, fancy former Foreign Secretary, and hardline Brexiteer, Boris Johnson. There’s an old adage in the Tory Party that he who wields the knife never wears the crown. Having brought down her predecessor, David Cameron, “never” may simply refer to the span of one Prime Minister.
Other candidates, so far, include current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. At least two others, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, are also rumored in. The BBC suggests more than a dozen others are seriously considering standing, making the Conservative leadership race look something like a Democratic primary.
Theresa May failed, three times, to deliver Brexit, as promised, to the British people. With deep divisions even between those contesting the Tory leadership, and no majority in Parliament for any policy, her successor will face serious challenges from Day 1. Brussels too does not seem any more willing to make concessions (whatever they might be) to a tougher, better negotiator (whoever that might be). Even running out the clock and leaving with no deal is fraught with peril, risking, among other things, reigniting the troubles with a hard Irish border.
One thing is for sure, no matter who the Tories choose to lead them, Nigel Farage and the newly empowered Brexit Party will be watching.