On Sunday, the European Union bestowed its blessing on a 585-page “withdrawal agreement,” also known as the “divorce papers” for the U.K.’s formal withdrawal from the EU, and a 26-page non-binding “Political Declaration” intended to guide future U.K.-EU relations.
Now U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s work begins at home, where she must convince her fellow Britons in Parliament to sign off on the deal negotiated with Europe. She will probably fail – and deserves to.
No one in the United Kingdom voted for a “soft Brexit,” the inedible concoction comprised of backroom deal-doing and anti-democratic compromise that is now being touted by Mrs. May and her supporters (who are abandoning her in droves).
Mrs. May has staked the future of her government, her political career and her country on this putrid porridge upon which she has pledged her “heart and soul” and dared Parliament to “take-it-or-leave-it.” Likewise, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared, “It’s the best deal possible. The European Union will not change its fundamental position.”
The opponents to Mrs. May’s Brexit deal are vocal, numerous and growing. They include leaders of rival political parties, Conservatives who favor a “hard Brexit,” others who remain unsure of the wisdom of withdrawal, and several opportunity-minded individuals interested in securing accommodations at 10 Downing Street.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called the Political Declaration, intended to make the Brexit agreement more palatable, “26 pages of waffle” and vowed that his party would not support it. Conservative MP Mark Francois called it “political camouflage.” Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson told the media he felt Britain was “on the verge of making a historic mistake.”
On the right-hand side of this page, we publish a column by Cayman Financial Review editorial board member Daniel J. Mitchell, who writes: “Theresa May was not a Brexit supporter. She failed to play some very strong cards and she basically worked to come up with a fake Brexit.”
Let us recall the events that have led us to the present moment.
The Brexit bramble grew from a colossal political miscalculation. Prime Minister May’s predecessor David Cameron courted Tory hardliners by promising a referendum on Brexit, in the belief that voters would choose “Remain” over “Leave.” He bet wrong, and Mr. Cameron made his own “political Brexit” – pronto.
Enter Mrs. May who stepped up and stepped into the breach. Having learned little to nothing from the political wreckage bestowed upon the country by her predecessor, Mrs. May also called for a general election to strengthen her government. Big mistake. The result was a significant erosion of her party’s power and the emboldening of her political opponents.
And so here we are, with a humiliating Brexit proposal on the table, Mrs. May’s government teetering on the brink of stability, and marketing sloganeers and political advisers trying to put a positive spin on the entire 585-page mess.
As Prime Minister May should have known, oftentimes events – and how individuals respond to them – determine their legacy. They emerge, sometimes bloodied but victorious, as leaders, or in the alternative, as mere asterisks in the annals of history.
From our vantage point, Mrs. May may not be headed for an epitaph of ignominy – certainly she has been “adequate” during difficult times – but history ultimately will render a verdict that she was the leader who would not lead.
On June 23, 2016, British voters cast their ballots to withdraw the U.K.’s membership in the European Union.
Mrs. May’s legacy will be that she refused to, or was unable to, implement the democratic wishes of her countrymen.