Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: It was always going to end in tears, but one positive is Karen Bradley is on way out too

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

It was always going to end this way. Theresa May in tears on the doorstep of Number 10 announcing her departure.

From the very start she never had a firm grip on power.

In recent months she clung to office by her fingernails. There was no dignity in her survival.

She wasn't dealt a great hand in the first place, but she played it atrociously.

She wasn't clubbable - and that's no bad thing - but she didn't listen or build alliances.

She went back on her word time and time again, notching up a dizzying record of U-turns.

When the writing was on the wall her strategy was simply to turn her face away and ignore it.

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To try to bring her withdrawal agreement back to Parliament for the fourth time wasn't admirably stubborn, it was stupid.

Her voice crackled with emotion as she said she was honoured to have served her country and become "the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last". The comparison with her predecessor flatters May.

For all her many faults, Margaret Thatcher won three elections in a row.

She set the agenda in Britain for over a decade. Mrs May will be remembered as a political victim.

The best that will be written in history about her is that she endured with stoicism.

Like Mrs Thatcher, she was seen from the get-go as a committed unionist.

In her first speech as Prime Minister in July 2016 she spoke of the "precious, precious bond" between Britain and Northern Ireland.

"The full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party and that word 'unionist' is very important to me", she said.

To the understandable dismay of nationalists, she entered a 'confidence and supply' agreement with the DUP two years ago.

Ironically, she would then stand accused of endangering the Union with the controversial backstop which Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Dublin embraced. Despite its opposition to her Brexit plan, the DUP never doubted May's unionist credentials.

It blamed "Downing Street apparatchiks" for the policy, not the Prime Minister personally.

"She didn't listen to us about what was possible," a DUP insider said last night. "It went in one ear and out the other.

"I wouldn't call her tenacious, I'd call her thran," he added, citing the very characteristic so long associated with his own party.

There is some sympathy for Mrs May across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland - an acknowledgement that she was genuinely driven by a sense of duty.

But the big bonus for all the parties here is that Karen Bradley's days as Secretary of State are now numbered.

It is inconceivable that Mrs May's successor would leave her in situ.

Mrs Bradley's confirmation yesterday that she wouldn't be a candidate for the Tory leadership was greeted with hilarity because of the ridiculousness of the very suggestion that she would be in the running in the first place.

Boris Johnson is the odds-on favourite for the job, and the worse the Tories do in the EU election, the better his chances become. He will appear as the only candidate, genuinely popular with Tory members and voters who can challenge Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party.

Johnson's main rivals come across too much as the men in grey suits when the Tories have endured a female John Major for the past three years.

Even MPs who despise or don't trust him could be convinced to support him if they believe they'll be voted out of office come the next general election.

But if his opponents manage to agree on a single Brexiteer 'Stop Boris' candidate, then Johnson may not even be one of the final two on the ballot paper for the membership to choose from.

Given his popularity with the party's grassroots, that would seem a great injustice. But it's one that would surely make Mrs May smile.

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