Perhaps it’s no longer a matter of if, but of when, and under what circumstances, Theresa May’s career as prime minster comes to a humiliating end in Britain. The resignations of David Davis, the cabinet minister overseeing Brexit, and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, within a day of one another have seen to that. The only remaining question is, now what?
Arguments among the Tories over what to do about Europe, and Britain’s place in the geography, are not new. The British have traditionally not considered themselves really a part of the continent, as expressed in a famous headline in The Times: “Fog in channel, Europe cut off.” More recently, suspicion of Europe is what brought down Margaret Thatcher three decades ago, victim of a coup launched by her own disloyal ministers. The problem then as now is that the British people are far more skeptical of a united Europe than the toffs who make up much of the Tory leadership. (There’s a certain similarity to the endless tantrum of the elites in our own country.)
Mrs. May seemed like a workable replacement for David Cameron, who resigned after the British people surprised the world — and perhaps even themselves — by voting to extricate Britain from Europe. Like most of the Cameron government, she didn’t want to leave the bureaucratic comfort of the European Union, but she wasn’t a fanatic about it. She looked like the leader who could unite the Tories.
One of her first moves was to call a national election, which looked at the time like smart politics but turned out, not to put too fine a point on it, not to be. She hired several out-of-work consultants to Barack Obama, of all people, to “help” the Conservative Party write a platform, and this revealed her to be a “nanny-stater on steroids.” A historic victory turned out to be a rout, coming close to restoring a Labour government.
She has managed Brexit badly, taking baby steps only when forced to, and eager to appease the financial sector, the trade unions, and the Germans instead of delivering what the people voted for. Rather than marching ahead bravely, as Churchill or Mrs. Thatcher would have done, she gave the diehard opponents of leaving the EU the time to develop plots to undo the will of the people.
It’s clear now that she has never been serious about leaving the European Union. The British people voted to leave not because they were tired of immigrants stealing their jobs — which was how the international left spun it — but because they were tired of European bureaucrats in Brussels, taking orders from Berlin, chipping away at the centuries-old British tradition of self-government.
What Boris Johnson and David Davis, either of whom would be an improvement at No. 10 Downing Street, seemed to be saying with their stunning resignations is “no more mollycoddling the ‘remainers.’” The Conservative government in London must deliver what it promised, however reluctantly it made the promise.
Theresa May must make the next move. She holds all the cards, but it’s a weak hand. She could call an election but that would pull disaster down on her, and make the inept and wrong-headed Jeremy Corbyn the new prime minister.
It’s always foolish to draw lessons from elections abroad and apply them here, even lessons from our cousins across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, President Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the several contenders waiting for Rep. Paul Ryan to leave the scene as promised, should take the Brexit betrayal to heart: If you’re going to do something radical and disruptive, as the people demand, you had better have a very good plan ready with competent people prepared to execute it, or a very good excuse for betrayal.
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