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May set to become latest Tory PM ousted over Europe

The Conservative Party’s long-running rows over relations with Europe have troubled previous occupants of Number 10.

Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street following the general election results (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street following the general election results (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Theresa May appears set to become the latest Tory prime minister to be brought down by the issue of Europe.

The dying days of her premiership are likely to be dominated by the issue as she faces the same fate as David Cameron, Sir John Major and Margaret Thatcher before her.

– Margaret Thatcher

After more than 11 years in office, Mrs Thatcher was forced out of Number 10 in November 1990. Although other issues, including the hugely divisive poll tax, played a part in her downfall, ultimately it was divisions over Europe which forced her out of office.

Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech after quitting as deputy prime minister over Europe paved the way for Mrs Thatcher’s own departure within weeks. In a scathing statement, he told MPs “the prime minister’s perceived attitude towards Europe is running increasingly serious risks for the future of our nation” and he argued that her Eurosceptic approach was damaging efforts to co-operate with the European Economic Community.

“It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain,” he said.

– John Major

Sir John faced huge problems with the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party – including three Cabinet ministers he called “bastards” in comments picked up by a TV microphone.

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John Major in 1995 (John Giles/PA)

The rows over the Maastricht Treaty were every inch as bitter as the current Tory difficulties over Brexit.

Sir John’s running battles with the Eurosceptics led him to issue a “put up or shut up” challenge, resigning as Tory leader to force a contest in 1995 – in which he comfortably defeated John Redwood.

But his authority was in tatters after years of internal Conservative warfare and by the time the 1997 election came along, voters delivered a Labour landslide.

– David Cameron

The rise of Ukip and mounting pressure from Eurosceptics led Mr Cameron to promise a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

The divisions in his cabinet saw senior ministers – including close friend Michael Gove – campaign for Brexit as Mr Cameron fought on the Remain side.

The historic 2016 vote saw a 52% to 48% victory for the Leave cause, which put the UK on a course out of the European Union and Mr Cameron out of office.

Just hours after the result was clear, Mr Cameron stood in Downing Street and said: “I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”

– Theresa May

After months of speculation, the Prime Minister confirmed at a meeting of the Tory 1922 Committee that she would stand down if her Brexit deal gets through Parliament.

Her torrid premiership has been characterised by rows over Europe, with more resignations during her comparatively short time in office than throughout Mrs Thatcher’s tenure, including 18 ministers quitting over Brexit.

Her promise to quit was a final gamble aimed at securing the Brexit deal as her legacy – but it may not be enough if Tory hardliners remain opposed to the Withdrawal Agreement.

– The next Tory leader?

Former minister Nick Boles predicted that “the same fate awaits her (Mrs May’s) successor, whoever it is”.

PA

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