By Morak Babajide-Alabi
The United Kingdom Prime Minister, Theresa May is under fire once again. Things are looking bad for her as she struggles to whip some of her party members into line and make something of the British exit from the European Union. For some time now, BREXIT has kept her awake most nights thinking how best to deal with this “monstrosity” that defines her administration.
May’s major headache since assuring the office is BREXIT. To be fair to her, she never expressed publicly her wish for the UK to leave or remain in the union. A political gamble was taken by her adventurous predecessor, David Cameron, and which cost him his premiership. Cameron should count himself lucky for not forced to clear the mess he created.
To say it’s not been easy for Mrs May is an understatement. After the many “walks” to and from Brussels in the past few months, and countless hours of negotiations, she would have thought this past week was her chance to catch up on lost sleep.
At least she has the draft of the EU withdrawal agreement. A 585-page document which outlines the terms of the UK’s exit of the union and details how much will be paid to the EU. It also details the transition period and immigration should have been a comfort to the people of the UK.
This was a mistake, as the week turned out to be a nightmare for her as colleagues, opposition figures and analysts scrutinised her reasonings and plans for the UK. On Tuesday when her office announced that the draft was ready and would be tabled before the cabinet the following day, few politicians on both divides and members of the public was enthusiastic about it. There have been speculations beforehand that the draft was a compromise on the wishes of the EU bureaucrats.
May needed the approval of the cabinet before she could move forward. The deliberations on the draft went on for over five hours in a meeting scheduled to last for three hours. To observers, this was the first sign that she struggled to sell the draft to her cabinet members.
At the end of the meeting, when the Prime Minister addressed the press, she confirmed that it was a “long, detailed and impassioned debate”. It was later revealed that the debate emboldened some of her ministers to question how good the draft is for the UK.
It was not long before the cracks within the cabinet became public knowledge. As May packed her bag for the journey to the Parliament, her right-hand man, BREXIT Secretary Dominic Raab announced his resignation. Raab, who until Wednesday night, was the go-between the UK and the EU leaders in Brussels said he cannot support the proposed deal because “… the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.”
Raab, in a bid to distance himself from the draft, took a swipe at May’s proposal of an indefinite backstop arrangement, which would allow the EU to hold a veto over UK’s ability to exit. He wrote: “No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.”
Raab is a lawyer and we believe he knows what he is talking about. Why did it take him this long to jump the ship? As the BREXIT secretary was he not aware of the content of the draft before it was made public? His resignation had dominos effect as a few more high-profile cabinet members followed suit. The Works and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara all walked. At the end of the day, some other senior cabinet members were on “resignation watch”.
May was an example of a lonely figure at the parliament on Thursday. She sat there looking forlorn as her draft agreement was torn apart by opposition party members and her fellow Tories. The “hardcore” BREXITEERS drew out “long knives” on the floor of the parliament and took turns to “stab” May on the back.
May soldiered on, smiling at every pause of criticism to assure herself she was still in charge. But on a closer look, you could see that she was under immense strain. The wrinkles on her face are longer, wider and gradually defying fashion makeups. This is the price May has to pay in her lead role of walking the UK out of the EU.
We still need to give to her though. It takes courage for you to stand up and be “crucified” by colleagues who were once your cheerleaders. Can you imagine the thoughts in May’s head as Jacob Rees-Mogg, a notable Brexiteer, asked her if he should submit a letter of “no confidence” on her? “As what my Right Honourable friend says, and what my Right Honourable friend does, no longer match. Should I write to my Right Honourable friend, the member for Altrincham and Sale West?”
Although May was polite in her answer, she would wish she was not under intense scrutiny for a deal she thought was the best UK could get now. This is the position she is now. The question is – Did she lose her way in the BREXIT scheme? Or she did not have a script for BREXIT from the onset?
But she once said “Because Brexit means Brexit”, “… we’re going to make a success of it. Second, we need to unite our party and our country. And third, we need a bold new positive vision for the future of our country – a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but for every one of us.” People are holding on to these promises and expecting a lot more than she seems capable to deliver.
The hard BREXITERS wants nothing short of a total divorce with the EU. They are holding her by the jugular and demanding it is their way or she is shown the exit door. Unfortunately, this woman is “not for turning” as she vows to do her “job of getting the best deal for Britain.” and definitely see it through.
She seems not moved by any threat to her leadership. Despite the efforts of Rees-Mogg and others to get the magic number of 48 Tory members of parliament to declare a vote of no confidence in her, May is trudging on. “I understand fully that there are some who are unhappy with those compromises but this deal delivers what people voted for and it is in the national interest. We can only secure it if we unite behind the agreement reached in cabinet yesterday (Wednesday).”
It is still a long road to any meaningful deal for the UK as things are now. In an article, “Brexit: A Long Road To Independence for the UK“, published in this column on 11 September 2016, I foresaw what I thought would be the face of BREXIT. “Fast forward to the present, the strain and disappointment of the people that voted Leave are becoming visible. The joy and happiness that greeted the results of the referendum have now been replaced by weariness and confusion. The voters have suddenly realised that the dream may take a while to become a reality. Apart from this, there is a feeling of having been taken for a ride by the politicians.”
Deal or no deal, UK is worse of outside EU.
As written for the Diaspora Matters Column of Sunday Vanguard of 18th November 2018.