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Theresa May’s legacy will be defined by Brexit failure

The UK’s second female Prime Minister leaves office with the main issue of her premiership unresolved.

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside at 10 Downing Street in London, where she announced she is standing down as Tory party leader on Friday June 7.
Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside at 10 Downing Street in London, where she announced she is standing down as Tory party leader on Friday June 7.

Despite efforts to ensure her legacy is about more than Brexit, Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister will be remembered for the chaos surrounding her ultimately doomed efforts to take the UK out of the European Union.

She arrived in Downing Street on July 13, 2016 faced with the task of bringing together party and country after the traumas of the EU referendum.

But her entire premiership was dominated by tortuous negotiations in Brussels and vicious infighting within her own party over the terms on which the UK would leave.

Mrs May, 62, marked her arrival with an impassioned promise on the steps of Number 10 to tackle the “burning injustices” which hold back the poor, ethnic minorities, women and the working classes in modern British society.

In the dying days of her premiership, she has attempted to return to those issues and also called for a more civilised style of politics in her final major speech as Prime Minister.

She hit out at the “inability to combine principles with pragmatism and make a compromise when required” – comments which appear borne out of her experience fighting, and losing, a battle with the hardline Brexiteers of the European Research Group on the Tory benches.

Mrs May’s premiership was destined for disaster after her gamble on a snap election in 2017 backfired spectacularly, deprived her of her slim majority in the House of Commons, leaving her dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party.

From that point, she was engaged in a day-by-day battle to force her agenda through and maintain the fragile unity of her Government.

During her troubled administration, more than 20 ministers quit over Brexit differences, her Withdrawal Agreement was defeated by a record-breaking 230 votes and she suffered the indignity of having her Government found in contempt of Parliament.

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Mrs May’s awkward demeanour and endlessly repeated ‘strong and stable’ mantra saw her dubbed the Maybot during the 2017 election campaign (Danny Lawson/PA)

The fateful decision to call an early election, in the hope of securing the comfortable majority she needed to implement her Brexit plans, was taken on an Easter walking holiday in Snowdonia with husband Philip.

A poorly received manifesto and hastily withdrawn social care policy, coupled with a robotic campaigning style and the surprise outbreak of Corbynmania, saw her squander a 20-point lead in the polls and lose 13 MPs.

The result saw the Tory majority wiped out while a visibly distraught Mrs May had to turn to the DUP to prop her up in Parliament, with £1 billion in extra Government funds going to Northern Ireland.

That year’s conference in Manchester ended in humiliation, as she was handed a P45 by a comedian on stage, lost her voice to a persistent cough and ended her speech with letters falling off the backdrop behind her.

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Comedian Simon Brodkin interrupted Mrs May’s disastrous conference speech in Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mrs May’s attempts to find an ally in US President Donald Trump also backfired, with him criticising her Brexit strategy and praising Boris Johnson – the favourite to succeed her.

She had rushed to be the first world leader to meet Donald Trump at the White House after his inauguration in January 2017.

But two high-profile visits to the UK by the president saw him lavish praise on Mr Johnson on both occasions.

A final wedge was driven between Mr Trump and Mrs May with the leak of UK ambassador Sir Kim Darroch’s highly critical messages about the president.

In the fallout, Mr Trump hit out at Mrs May’s “failed” Brexit plan and the “foolish way” she had gone about it.

As Mrs May prepares to leave Downing Street, she has indicated she intends to remain as an MP – potentially beyond the next election.

And she appears intent on making sure her successor follows her in trying to securing an amicable divorce from Brussels rather than pursuing a no-deal strategy.

Whether Mr Johnson or his leadership rival Jeremy Hunt will listen to her remains to be seen.

PA

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