Theresa May’s government, particularly after June’s disastrous, majority-crushing general election, has appeared anything other than the ‘strong and stable’ mantra repeated throughout the campaign. The problems facing the government now appear to be on a never-ending conveyor belt. For those old enough to remember the Generation Game, recalling the scandals and issues to hit Theresa May must almost seem like a game itself. All it lacks is the cuddly toy at the end.
In the last month alone, Boris Johnson’s remarkable misspeak in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British woman currently jailed in an Iranian prison, has led to calls for the sacking of the Foreign Secretary. The resignation of the now former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon for alleged inappropriate behaviour and the accusations levelled at the effective Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green in connection to the wider “Pestminster” scandal have left Theresa May without a close ally and her wafer-thin majority at risk in future by-elections. Additionally, Priti Patel’s resignation as International Development Secretary following undisclosed meetings with Israeli politicians caused further pain and embarrassment for the embattled Prime Minister.
In many respects this week has been marginally better for Theresa May as all eyes have turned once more to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Brexit represents a chance for one last stand for the government and perhaps more importantly for the legacy of the Prime Minister. Theresa May has long spoke about being a committed public servant rather than an ideologically-minded leader. Therefore, it is my belief that she views Brexit as an opportunity to ensure that something the public have voted upon will be implemented by her, regardless of her personal vote for Remain.
When running for leadership last summer, Theresa May was very careful to show her supporters within the Conservative Party that she was serious about getting on with Brexit as swiftly and as effectively as possible, stating; “Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it”. Additionally, as Prime Minister, she stood at Number Ten and made it one of her main priorities, claiming “we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world”.
Although the real reasons for calling an election in June are debateable, the announcement of it was aimed at strengthening the government’s hand in passing Brexit legislation. Theresa May argued that opposition parties were harming Brexit negotiations, saying; “If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue” and “division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit”.
Despite the damaging result of the June election, Brexit is an ever-stronger part of Theresa May’s plans. The latest talking point is what time and date should appear on the parliamentary bill currently undergoing its committee stage in the Commons. The idea of putting a time and date on the front page of the document has caused anger in some quarters, including amongst her own party, in which a group of rebel Conservative MPs are set to join Labour and other opposition parties in voting against it.
To my mind, the idea of including a time and date is nothing but symbolic of Theresa May’s desire to see Brexit through before her own colleagues see her through. Whether or not the amendment passes is in some way completely irrelevant. Brexit supporters are the majority within both the Conservative Parliamentary Party and its wider membership. It is therefore imperative for her leadership that she appears both strong on Brexit and close to the MPs who could quickly bring her leadership to a gruesome conclusion. There are few things that Theresa May can do with her weak majority and withered reputation, except for pushing through Brexit in a forceful and determined manner.
The determination of Theresa May to keep her party happy by ensuring Brexit has also been reflected in the make-up of her cabinet. From the start of her leadership she made sure to give Brexiteers the key roles. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove and Priti Patel were neatly balanced with Remainers Amber Rudd, Phillip Hammond, and Justine Greening. Following the resignation of Priti Patel, discussion centred on her replacement needing to be a Brexiteer in order to maintain the cabinet balance, resulting in the eventual promotion of Penny Morduant. That example alone illustrates how central Brexit is to everything the government does under Theresa May.
It is my view that, regardless of the next problem, scandal, or mistake made by Boris Johnson, Theresa May will charge on with her determination to push Brexit through at all costs. I do not think for one moment that she has morphed into Nigel Farage or become a cheerleader for Brexit, but her determination instead comes from a sense of public service. Whether or not Theresa May genuinely thinks that Brexit is the best path forwards for Britain is something we may never know. However, I believe she thinks that Brexit might well be her one last stand as Prime Minister.