by Morak Babajide-Alabi
When Theresa May announced her resignation as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on Friday, it did not come as a surprise. The world had waited for nearly three years of her Premiership to hear this.
In July 2016, when the Prime Minister took over the rein of the leadership of the Conservative, no one could guess the thoughts of her mind. She gleefully delivered her acceptance speech. Smiling from one cheek to the other, May accepted this responsibility, which additionally came with a burden of leading her beloved country out of the continental European Union. The first Prime Minister to be in a position to plan the country’s exit from the EU.
She probably had thought it would be an easy walk in the park. Her meritorious history-making tenure as the longest-serving Home Secretary must have given her the confidence to think she could take on the new role. Give it to her she left big shoes to fill up as a two-term Home Secretary. May was a no-nonsense Secretary who ensured immigration reform was the main agenda of the Conservative-led government under Prime Minister David Cameron.
As the Home Secretary, May presented herself as a woman lacking any milk of human compassion. She made life absolutely hard and unbearable for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. She changed many immigration laws and formulated a few more in her bid to keep immigrants away from the UK. As the “mastermind” in immigration, she ensured the Cameron administration abolished, among others, the popular post-study immigration route.
She made immigration a subject of national discourse, talked tough on it and at every opportunity promised to considerably bring down the net migration to the UK. Her hard stance on immigration broke up many family units as stories of how legal residents were picked up on flimsy excuses and deported emerged. The Windrush disaster was under her watch. May lost face with other EU leaders when she refused to support their efforts at the height of the 2015 mass migration across the Mediterranean Sea. She bluntly refused to take in refugees to be resettled in the UK.
Surprisingly, these are some of the successes touted by her supporters in her bid for the Conservative Leadership post. Britain, they argued needed a strong leader that will tackle issues head-on without any compromises. Well, maybe May represented some of these leadership qualities as the Home Secretary, but her premiership lacked the bite of a decisive leader.
In 2016, the British had voted in a referendum to quit the EU it was by a slim majority but in democracy, the winner takes all. It was a shocking result, as the projection had been a win for those wishing to stay in the union. David Cameron, the Prime Minister and initiator of the referendum, could not believe the result. Invariably what was planned to boost his premiership turned out to be his undoing.
He was over-confident that the British people would vote to stay. He was wrong in his projection and by this, he led the country on the path of confusion and till date in a circular motion without an end. Cameron fell on his sword. He had no choice as he could not lead an exit he did not believe in.
This was totally on another level with Theresa May. She was a staunch “Remainer”, but also a very clever woman. While her cabinet colleagues were vociferous regarding the sides they belonged to, May sat on the fence. Not much public appearances of hers were recorded in support or against the referendum.
When Cameron slipped, May didn’t waste much time to slide into the people’s side – the winning side. She became the proponent and number one supporter of the “Leave” group. And when the premiership was handed to her on a platter of gold, she became a totally different woman. She saw herself as the God-sent messiah to deliver the BREXIT she did not believe in. She delivered the very famous speech proclaiming that “BREXIT is BREXIT”.
On the steps of 10 Downing Street on July 13, 2016, she had said: “We are living through an important moment in our country’s history. Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change and I know because we’re Great Britain that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a new, bold, positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works, not for the privileged few, but for every one of us.”
Unfortunately, May failed in a grand way in this mission. She was destined to fail, you may say. She came to office on the plank of BREXIT, lived everyday breathing and thinking of BREXIT and had to give up as she could not solve the BREXIT problem as she promised three years ago. I am not sure how long it took May to realise she had embarked on a thankless and futile job. But it was not long before the strains of the job started appearing on her face.
You could excuse May for her failure. She had no idea how to exit the union. She was never a supporter of an exit, so had no full plan or a vague blueprint. She was accepted as a compromise leader for the Tories not because she was loved, but because she was respected. But in politics, respect ends when you are no longer in a position to deliver or you are acting against the popular agenda. May was soon to discover.
In delivering a mandate she never believed in, May struggled to put her ideas across to her party members. She surrounded herself with hardcore “Leavers” such as Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt and Michael Gove. She thought she could take some of their ideas, modify some to suit her liberal position and still be acceptable to the Leave voters. Her assembly of strange bedfellows really got everything confused. It was not long before those that matter, in her government, realised they had been sleeping on the wrong sides of the bed. They started singing discordant tunes and all efforts to mend the cracks were futile. The exit exodus started so many months ago.
May is a tough woman, no doubt. But as tough as she appeared as the Home Secretary, her premiership was a representation of a confused woman. As a Prime Minister, May went back on many of her words as soon as she said them. She comes across as a woman who cannot hold a stare down for long. Her capitulation to the EU negotiators is legendary. All her famous “red lines” before the start of the negotiations soon disappeared as she struggled to hold on to power.
Finally and tearfully she held up her hands and wrote a befitting farewell remark for herself. She said: “It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.” She could not hide her tears of failure as she turned her back on the cameras to take consolation behind the door of an office she would be vacating soon. BREXIT has seen her exit the job she really loved to do.
I apologise for the temporary break in the series started last week. I could not resist the urge to write on the developing story in the United Kingdom. Hopefully, we will resume this next week after this exit saga is all over.
As written for the Diaspora Matters column in the Sunday Vanguard, May 26, 2019.