Thursday, 21st March, a thousand days since the vote, another historical day in the Brexit saga! But next week promises to be even more interesting. We were told over and over again, “Brexit means Brexit”, and the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on the 29th March 2019. Parliament has rejected Mrs May’s ‘withdrawal agreement’ twice, and she has refused to shift on any of her ‘red lines’ to make the ‘withdrawal agreement’ more palatable to a majority of MPs, who clearly don’t want to leave the EU without a deal. But serious questions do arise as to her overall intentions and strategy.
First of all, let’s look at Mrs May’s record since she became prime minister in July 2016. She outlined her ‘red lines’, withdrawal from the single market, customs union, and the European Court of Justice, in her Lancaster House speech on 17 January, 2017. Then on the 20th March 2017 she instructed the British representative in Brussels, Sir Tim Barrow, to deliver the letter that triggered Article 50. This started the withdrawal process, which unfortunately was not accompanied by a ‘road map’ showing how this was to be accomplished. No one knew what the plan was to leave the EU.
She appointed Boris Johnson and David Davis, known hard line pro Brexit ministers, to look after the process, while oddly at the same time selecting Olly Robbins, a career civil servant known for his pro European sympathies, as her chief negotiator. Then she called a general election after a weekend walk in the Welsh mountains. The result was disastrous, as she ended up depending on the Democratic Unionist Party, an extreme group of Ulster unionists who have one raison d’etre, maintaining the union with Great Britain, for her reduced majority. Her record is riddled with contradictions. It was all too rushed, and too chaotic to form any type of social consensus either inside or outside Parliament. The country is absolutely divided, as is Parliament. This brings us to the question of Mrs May’s leadership.
Probably the most difficult job for a leader is to persuade others to follow. But persuasion is interactive and attempts to satisfy both parties. It is not something one does to others, but rather with them. We know that Mrs. May is known for her secretiveness; we know she pushed only her own ‘withdrawal agreement’, and resisted all attempts at other possibilities, we also know that she invited Members of Parliament to Downing Street, but they left echoing the sentiment that she didn’t listen.
Over the last two years she has failed to inspire her own party. Her party will only follow her if they trust her. Evidently, they don’t.
The events since she has come into office show that her leadership style is dictatorial rather than persuasive. To be a persuasive leader, Mrs May has to be empathic and understand the problems of her party members, but there is little evidence of any such empathy. There is only one vision, her vision, and the majority do not share it.
But who will succeed her? Will it be Boris Johnson or Dominic Rabb, both extreme hard line Brexiteers? Will it be Jeremy Hunt or the over-ambitious Michael Gove? Or will it be someone like Amber Rudd? Whoever it is will need extraordinary charismatic leadership skills to bring the House of Commons and the majority in the country behind an agreed solution.
Nevertheless, to save her premiership, she may now abandon her red lines and go for a compromise, such as staying in the customs union. Many observers feel her days in No 10 are numbered.