Can May cling on?

(Photo: Getty Images)

BY ISSY SHANNON, UK Editor

With the uncertainty of Brexit negotiations and Theresa May’s deal calling into question her position as Prime Minister, many have begun discussing who will take over if her term ends, perhaps prematurely. Since revealing her deal and suffering cabinet resignations, her premiership has looked more and more unstable as the pressure to get the 48 letters needed to trigger a vote of no confidence to the 1922 committee grew. However, with her cabinet stabilising and the ERG Tory group of eurosceptics so far failing to trigger a leadership contest, she, for now at least, seems to be safe – but how long will this last?

Whilst the Prime Minister regularly states she intends to fight the next election and stay to oversee Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, doubt in her leadership remains consistent. May refuses to answer whether she intends on resigning should her Brexit deal fail to get through parliament but having called the 2017 General Election despite denying she would, her leadership remains under almost permanent speculation.

As well as having to fight off criticism from the opposition benches, she has to contend with contests from within her party as cabinet colleagues and backbench MPs jostle for her job and a new Brexit deal. Since Chequers and the Tory Party conference, speeches from the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have been a direct challenge to her leadership. While Theresa May campaigns to win over businesses and the public, and with opposition to her deal in Parliament seemingly coming from all sides, the chances of her deal passing through parliament remain slim. What this would mean for the country and her leadership are unknown, but her position would be difficult if not untenable.

If it is the case that there is a leadership challenge on the horizon – who is the most likely candidate and more to the point, who is most likely to be successful in winning over, not only the Conservative Party but the British public as a whole.

Many have suggested Boris Johnson, who resigned as Foreign Secretary in July over May’s Chequers proposal and has been a vocal critic since.  The leading Eurosceptic would be supported by many Brexiteers and those who, like him, call for a return to “basic Conservative ideas and values.” However, the electability of Mr Johnson is now questioned as his once popular image has become controversial since the vote to Leave. Further, he is openly mocked by his former cabinet colleagues, including Phillip Hammond, risking whether he can be taken seriously by his party, the electorate, and on the international stage.

Another minister who has made no effort to hide his desire for Mrs May’s job is current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. Whilst he backed the Remain campaign, he has recently made comments that appear to support a harder Brexit – claiming there should be no preferential status for EU nationals wanting to work in the UK after Brexit. Is this him wooing both sides of the Conservative party in order to make himself more palatable to all factions? Polls suggest he would be the most popular candidate for the membership.

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove has also been explicit in his criticism of the Prime Minister and her deal, and has been mentioned as a contender for her leadership. He has declined the offer to become the new Brexit Secretary on the grounds that he would not be allowed to renegotiate May’s deal. Other names in the mix include Ester Mcvey, former leadership contender Andrea Leadsome, former Education Secretary Justine Greening, and popular backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg; the list goes on.

The fact that a list, and a long one at that, has been repeatedly drawn up as to who will replace Mrs May suggests her premiership is under immediate threat, but also raises questions of there being no obvious candidate. This does not instil confidence in a nation whose future rides on the decisions this government takes on Brexit when they are seemingly are more divided than ever. The resignation of former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab in opposition to a deal that he was supposed to be in charge of exemplifies the current division between May and the pro-Brexit factions of her party.

Whoever presides over Brexit will be marred with its chaos and its eventual success or failure, as the party, never mind the nation, are completely divided. It is impossible to please all sides and to speak for the whole nation, so whoever decides they want to take on this poisoned chalice is brave. It would surely be tactical to allow her to take the bullets and ride out the chaos of the negotiations, before emerging to contest her leadership?

However, as Mogg has recently outlined, if the Tories leave it too late they risk missing their chance to oust Theresa May before a general election, leaving open the prospect of a general election and a Corbyn government. The Labour Party is yet to explicitly clarify their Brexit negotiating position; the lack of clarity enabling Corbyn to maintain a pretence of party unity while the Tories battle it out openly.

Under Corbyn, the Labour Party have remained virtually silent as the Prime Minister’s Brexit nightmare plays out. Many have suggested this could have been the perfect time for Labour to step forward and provide a viable alternative to the Tories Brexit Deal and prove they are an electable party. This is yet to be the case, however, as Corbyn and his shadow cabinet continue to give contradictory statements on the issue with some remaining on the fence.

Despite the ever-louder battle cries from her opponents, Theresa May says she will stand strong and deliver what she feels is the best outcome for the country. Whether you agree with her negotiating stance or not, credit where credit is due as she endeavours to deliver something which will no doubt make or break her legacy as Prime Minister. Which begs the question; if and when Theresa May’s time in number 10 comes to an end, what will her legacy be? A Chamberlain-like exit with the country left in Brexit chaos, or the Prime Minister that saw Britain through Brexit against all odds.

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