Theresa May: May We Give Credit Where Credit is Due?

These past months there has been nearly
endless commentary about Theresa May’s
“failures” as she attempted to deliver some
form of a Brexit agreement through the
British Parliament. Full of political betrayal, including a failed coup by hard-Brexiteers of her own Conservative Party and the
defeat of her Brexit proposal by the largest
majority in recent government history, the
struggle that became the bane of the Prime
Minister’s leadership finally brought the
saga to a close. On Friday, Theresa May
announced that she would resign as leader
of the Conservative Party in June and make
way for a new Prime Minister.

There has been much anger directed at
May from all sides through the various
stages of the Brexit debate following the
2016 referendum. Her opponents (the
loudest of whom were once members of
her own cabinet) have been quick to blame
the Brexit impasse on the Prime Minister’s
“stubbornness”, “inability to negotiate”, or
any number of other perceived character
flaws which they believe are responsible
for the lackluster Brexit compromise that
she brought to the House of Commons.

Some said her plan went too far and would
cause chaos. Others claimed it kept the
country too close to the European Union.
But no one, save the Right Honourable
Theresa May, presented a feasible, planned
out option for MPs to consider. Sure, there
were a series of “Indicative Votes” in Parliament that took place after the House of
Commons rejected May’s deal, but all
these votes – for Brexit, against Brexit, for
a referendum, against a referendum, for the
Irish Backstop, against the Irish Backstop
– all failed. MPs did not compromise nor
offer a compromise. Why would they?

It’s much easier to stubbornly reject eve-
rything you don’t like and dump the blame
on the Prime Minister than it is to show
leadership and put aside political ambition
in order to deliver progress for the British

Its not hard to believe that Theresa May
did not love the agreement that resulted
from her negotiations with the European
Union. But it seemed like she wholeheartedly believed – sometimes to a fault – that
it was the best possible compromise for
the United Kingdom. She recognized the
realities of the situation: the issue of free
movement of people, the delicate relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the economic costs
associated with different levels of withdrawal from the European Union.

She also allowed her MPs to vote freely
on Brexit matters, knowing full well that
many party members disagreed with her
plan. May could have easily called for
whipped votes and forced MPs that disagreed to resign from her party or stay silent. Instead, she acknowledged the differences in the party and allowed for the
party’s internal debates to take place in the
public instead of behind closed doors. This
destroyed whatever control she had over
her MPs but supported the most basic principle of riding-based, first-past-the-post
electoral systems: that the MP’s foremost
responsibility is to represent the view of
his/her constituents.

The 2017 snap election that May called,
where her Conservative Party lost their majority in Parliament, supports this respect
for the Parliamentary system. Although the
results were the opposite of what she was
hoping for, it delivered a proper mandate
to deliver Brexit (amongst other things).
Theresa May recognized that there were
material changes and eventually came to
the principled decision that it was important for the British people to have a say on
who they wanted to represent them when
the fi nal Brexit decision was made. Elections are always risky affairs, but when the
challenges a government is facing change
dramatically – as occurred with Brexit – it
is important for the people to be given the
chance to refl ect on who will best support
their views on a local level.

The purpose of this article is not to
support Theresa May, or her Brexit plan.
Those topics would require numerous
other articles to discuss properly. But I
believe, if we look at solely at the circumstances surrounding Brexit, that the Prime
Minister deserves some credit for what
she has done. Theresa May took on one of
the most difficult tasks when she became
the Prime Minster responsible for leading
Britain through Brexit. And she stood in
the House, time and time again, to advocate for the deal that she saw as the most
realistic given the difficult circumstances.

She gave the House of Commons numerous chances to offer up other solutions and,
when none were given, again presented her
own. She may not have been charismatic
or visionary or political enough to triumph,
but there’s no doubt that she acknowledged
the importance of the House of Commons
in the decision making process and put her
job on the line to present a compromise
when all other British leaders lacked the
balls to do the same.

Leave a Reply