Britain's 'zombie PM' buys some time on Brexit

2019-01-30 07:49

British Prime Minister Theresa May bought herself some time by securing the support of MPs to renegotiate her Brexit deal, but her position remains perilous - and she is running out of road.

The Conservative leader has given herself a fortnight to try to salvage her withdrawal plan, before she asks the House of Commons to vote again.

Since taking office after the 2016 referendum, May has made an art of balancing competing demands from her party and European Union leaders over Brexit.

She has lurched from crisis to crisis but has often managed to broker a last-minute compromise that averts any immediate disaster.

On Tuesday, she united her deeply divided Conservative party and their Northern Irish allies behind a plan to return to Brussels to try to salvage her Brexit deal.

Resilience

But the EU said it would not reopen the agreement, and her most hard-line Eurosceptic MPs warned that without the changes, they would not support her.

That she is still trying to save her plan is, to her supporters, a mark of the resilience that has kept her in office against all the odds.

"She's focused on delivering the Brexit that people voted for," her aides repeatedly say.

To her critics, it is proof of her inflexibility, and her inability to respond to changing circumstances, and she has been dubbed the "zombie" leader.

She has certainly taken some knocks.

There was the ignominy of losing her parliamentary majority following a disastrous snap election in 2017, for which many of her colleagues blamed her own poor performance on the campaign trail.

Dozens of her ministers have since quit the government over Brexit, and her own MPs launched a leadership challenge against her late last year.

Then on January 15 she lost a Commons vote on her Brexit deal by a historic margin, prompting another confidence vote in her government.

Weakness

But each time she has fought on, partly protected by the inability of any serious challengers to form alliances and depose her.

Shortly before Christmas, May made a rare acknowledgement of weakness, telling Conservative colleagues she did not intend to lead them into the next scheduled election in 2022.

The concession secured her victory in a party confidence vote, but only weeks later, one third of her party voted against her Brexit deal.

May won the Conservative leadership by default when her predecessor David Cameron quit after the referendum, as her rivals fought among themselves or withdrew.

But despite her insistence that "Brexit means Brexit", her quiet support for staying in the EU during the campaign meant many Leave supporters have never quite trusted her.

Pro-Europeans are also suspicious of what they see as the zeal of the convert, noting how quickly she set out red lines that would come to tie her hands in negotiations with the EU.

Despite the near constant criticism, May has kept at it and compares herself to her cricketing hero Geoffrey Boycott, who was a byword for doggedness as a batsman.

The vicar's daughter gleefully seized on a putdown by a party elder that she was a "bloody difficult woman".

May eschews gossip and networking, and spent six years in the tough job of interior minister before entering Downing Street.

But her reserved nature often makes for stilted relations with world leaders and voters, while her tendency to repeat phrases and avoid direct questions earned her the media nickname "Maybot".

Read more on:    theresa may  |  uk  |  brexit
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