Theresa May under pressure to quit (again)

Slow and unsteady: One Conservative MP compared the indecisive May to a tortoise. © Getty

Should Theresa May resign? This question has hung around since last year’s election. But as the Brexit talks intensify and the Tory party slides into civil war, it is more urgent than ever.

New year, new you? Not if you are Theresa May.

By the end of a disastrous 2017, the prime minister appeared to have regained some kind of power. She had secured the first part of a deal with the European Union and established a fragile peace in her cabinet. Three weeks into 2018, however, her job is back on the line.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is May’s botched cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago, in which ministers rejected her attempts to move them. Once again, May looked weak.

The second is the upcoming local elections: Tories are fearing another poor result.

Third – and most importantly – the second phase of the Brexit talks is coming up. It will focus on the crucial issue of the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU. As the talks approach, the fissure between Europhiles and Eurosceptics is reopening, and both sides are accusing May of lacking vision – on Brexit and domestic affairs.

There are those, like Philip Hammond, who favour a “soft” Brexit. Last week at Davos, the chancellor contradicted the government’s position by calling for a “very modest” Brexit.

Then there are the “hard” Leavers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, the influential backbencher (and favourite to succeed May). They warn that a soft Brexit will turn the UK into a “vassal state”.

Caught in between, May seems paralysed. Also at Davos, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly made German reporters laugh by recounting how she had asked May what the UK wants from the EU. All May could reply was: “Make me an offer.”

The prime minister’s party is now in open revolt – Conservative grandee Michael Heseltine spoke for many when he said that “We have effectively no government.” So are the party’s donors: at a meeting last week, many apparently called for May’s resignation. Even her former adviser Nick Timothy accused the government of “strategic confusion”.

Since last year’s awful general election result, May has appeared on the verge of quitting several times. Yet she has survived. Is her number finally up?

Beware the Ides of May

Yes, say some. May is a dull leader and a clueless politician. She has no plan for Brexit, and is unable to stop her unruly colleagues from presenting their own conflicting ideas. At the most sensitive moment in modern British history, this is not what we need. She must leave now – or be forced out by her party.

Hang on, reply others. Cabinet members, and the Tory grassroots, have defended May so far. They understand that Brexit is going badly because the government is weak and the EU is strong. A new prime minister will not change that, and there are no strong candidates anyway. Let May stay, for a while at least.

You Decide

  1. Should May resign?
  2. Would you want to be prime minister?

Activities

  1. Come up with a strong slogan that each major party can use in the upcoming local elections.
  2. Draw a graph of May’s career as prime minister to date, marking important events and indicating what you think are the high and low points.

Some People Say...

“In war, you can only be killed once. But in politics, many times.”

Winston Churchill

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There are two ways for May to lose her job. One: she resigns. Two: 15% of Tory MPs (ie, 48 of them) submit a letter to Graham Brady MP declaring that they have no confidence in her. This triggers a confidence vote among all MPs in the party. If May loses it, she is out. The MPs then vote for their favourite two leaders from a pool of candidates; the final choice comes down to all party members.
What do we not know?
Whether MPs will force a confidence vote. According to media reports the rebels are just a few letters short, terrifying Brady, who favours stability. That said, we have heard similar rumours many times before. Even if the number hits 48, May could survive the vote. After all, two recent Tory prime ministers – Margaret Thatcher and John Major – did just that.

Word Watch

Cabinet reshuffle
Prime ministers change their ministers’ jobs at regular intervals, promoting some and demoting others. Of course, ministers can resign (or threaten to do so) instead of accepting a new job, which is what happened in May’s case.
Local elections
On May 3rd, elections for councils and other local authorities will be held across England.
Davos
Every January, the world’s elite meet to discuss big global problems at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Jacob Rees-Mogg
The popular Leaver was recently elected chairman of the European Research Group, which consists of at least 60 Eurosceptic Tory MPs – in other words, enough to bring about a confidence vote in May and vote down government bills. Rees-Mogg has threatened to do the latter.
Vassal state
A country in a subordinate position to another.
Grandee
An important person.
Apparently
The Times reported that, of the 50 donors present at a meeting last week, a quarter openly called for May to resign. “Among even the most loyal middle-ranking donors there is utter despair,” an anonymous source told the newspaper.

Subjects

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