By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Give it to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May. She is a classic example of the saying “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Although she does not literally wear the crown as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth does, she shoulders the leadership responsibilities of this great country. To be fair to her, this is not in any way an easy task.
It is not always easy to lead. Ask Tony Blair, a former occupant of May’s office, he will tell you how fast he aged while in office. Go a step further and compare the pictures of Barrack Obama, on assumption of office as the president of the United States of America, and when he left office. The years in office did take the toll on his look. Do not ask me why it is the opposite for leaders in Africa or other Third World countries. I guess they do not stress themselves with the challenges of their nations.
As a responsible leader, May has proved herself a smart fighter since she became the leader of the ruling Conservative Party in 2016. She has managed to suppress rebellions that would have sent many leaders out of offices. As a fighter she is, the scars of bruises are beginning to show around her face. The wrinkles are finding ways to undermine the beauty makeups.
There is no doubt; she is a strategist and the reason why she is still in power. She is living her political days as they come. She has proved a little wiser, after her unnecessary and ill-advised snap election call in 2017. It will be recalled that this move almost ended her political career and obviously the scare and uncertainty of her continuing in government after the election brought in some “strategic senses” to her head.
There has been no respite for her since becoming the Prime Minister. This is not helped by the fact that she took over at an important point in the history of the country. It was a time when a monumental decision on the future of her country had just been made, and she is saddled with the responsibility of seeing the U.K. out of the continental union.
This is by no means an easy task, especially with the confusion that had continually dogged the process. It is not debatable that the BREXIT negotiation topic is the most confusing and stressful in the country right now. I do not think anything has topped this in the history of the country. At least, not in the past thirty years has there been so much uncertainty in government policies or actions It is over two years that the referendum to quit the EU was held, yet there has not been much progress made on the details of how the exit will be carried out.
This belies the argument that the proponents of the “Leave” campaign threw their hats in half-heartedly. There were no strategies or plans beforehand on what would happen if people voted to leave the union. While there were lots of motions on their parts, it seemed they were more interested in keeping an isolated Britain than looking at the gains of the exit. They played on the emotions of the citizens as they were made to believe that everything wrong with the country was caused by the membership of the union.
Fortunately for them, the referendum was conducted at the time the country was lacking in confidence. The unemployment rates were on the rise, while the overhauling of the benefits system had resulted in many citizens losing their regular payouts. These and many more fired the nationalism in 51 per cent of the population who believed nationals from the EU have screwed up their system.
The shock result gave the “Leavers” away as people without a roadmap. The group became rudderless immediately after the victory at the referendum. It didn’t take long before the camp was thrown into disarray and rebellions became the order of the day. The key leaders soon lost their mojos to underhand politics. Remember Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others. This was when May, then Home Secretary, sneaked in to claim the gains. May could not be identified as a “Leaver” or “Remainer” throughout the campaigns. It was a big political gamble that paid off for her at the end of the day. When it was time to make a move, she didn’t sit on the fence. She threw her hat into the ring and made a bid for the leadership. As a well-honed politician, it didn’t take her long to identify with the victors. We still remember the famous “BREXIT means BREXIT” speech at the doorstep of 10 Downing Street.
The present confusion surrounding BREXIT has been attributed majorly to the fact that May had no clue on what the exit was all about. She has been accused several times as coming late to the party and attempting to impose her ideas on others. As a result, she has been pandering to the dictates of the EU bureaucrats.
How do you explain the confusion and uncertainty about the negotiations and the long process? The topics of negotiations keep changing without any clear approach to resolving them or moving forward. If it is not immigration, it is welfare benefits for other EU members, common economic borders or the justice systems. We seem to be going on in circles.
The politicians are not helping issues at all. You would have thought that once the result of the referendum had come in they will all line up and get the best deals for the country. It is unfortunate that years after, they are still divided into various groups, just as obtained in the pre-referendum days. The gap between the groups has been growing wider and wider as the exit day draws nearer.
Curiously, it is not only members of the opposition party that are throwing spanners in the works of the government. Within the ruling party and government, there have been open rebellions on some steps taken by the Prime Minister. A few government-sponsored bills have been defeated in the Parliament – no thanks to the rebels within the Tory Party. Some of them have been expunged, yet this had not silenced others.
This continuous rebellion and no unity of purpose on BREXIT informed the decision of the May and her handlers to invite all government ministers to her Chequers’ country home on Friday for an all-important meeting to discuss the “third option”. It was a well-publicised meeting to define May’s political future. There were expectations of disagreements, some name callings and serious deliberations. As a result and following protocols, the ministers’ phones were taken off them so they could not contact the “outside world” for advice or leak what was going on to the media.
There was not much surprise when at the end of the meeting May’s soft Brexit was rubber-stamped by the ministers. All the hues and cries of the BREXITEERS were silenced at this meeting, as at the end of it, there were no resignations. It has emerged that there were no oppositions to the Prime Minister’s soft Brexit because the ministers were more keen on keeping the government running rather than standing on principles.
It is not clear if this is a major victory for May, as she still needs to sit on the negotiation table with the EU officials to find a middle point for exit from the union. There is no disputing the fact that this will be a very risky business for her to do.
As written for the column, Diaspora Matters, Sunday Vanguard, July 8, 2018.