Theresa May announced that she would step down as British prime minister and Conservative Party leader on June 7 after being in the office for three years.
“I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that [Brexit] deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so. I tried three times. I believe it was right to persevere, even when the odds against success seemed high. But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort,” May said emotionally in a statement on May 24 outside 10 Downing Street. May’s tenure came to an end with the announcement, but she will remain in her post until the end of a Conservative race to succeed May in late July.
While taking office three years ago, May vowed to lead Britain out of the European Union (EU). But now Brexit has ended up being the unbearable factor that defeated May and ruined her political career. May’s resignation is not a surprise to both people of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The deeply unpopular Brexit deal she repeatedly and vainly tried to push through Parliament has forced her to an impasse. Deep divisions and conflicts over Brexit at the heart of May’s government were dramatically laid bare as discipline broke down and Cabinet ministers openly defied her in parliamentary voting. On March 20, 2019, May outraged many British lawmakers by publicly criticizing them for the deadlock. Some hard-line parliamentary members have even been pressuring her to decide the date she will step down in return for their support.
On a humane level, after watching her cry during the resignation speech, we deeply feel for May because she is shouldering the most difficult task in the United Kingdom. May is tenacious and perseverant. Frankly speaking, many men would have crumbled under the great pressure long before she did. However, as a leader who is steering one of the most important countries in the world, she surely lacks the cohesive force to unite Britain and the political wisdom to crack hard nuts.
From the perspective of social development, May has been unable to deliver on her promise. In her inauguration speech as prime minister, May promised to tackle the burning injustice of social stagnation in Britain. But the U.N. has recently criticized the country’s social calamity with its unnecessary austerity experiments, citing its increased poverty rate, homeless rate and decreased life expectancy.
As for the U.K. economy, the uncertainties over Brexit have already had a negative impact on its economic prospects. London has for many years prided itself on being the center of the global financial industry and the home of Euroclear and the European Banking Authority (EBA). However, the EU has decided to move the headquarters of EBA from London to Paris and relocate Euroclear to another city. In order to align with the relocations, many large banks and financial institutions will also transfer their euro assets from London to other places in Europe. Such moves will surely weaken the position of London as the No. 1 international financial center.
In terms of politics, May has made the U.K. and the ruling Conservative Party more divided, leaving her without a parliamentary majority. She tried to inject some optimism into the current Brexit process, but her unpopular deal failed to receive parliamentary approval three times.
In terms of policymaking, May is severely criticized for her immigration policy. Some migrants in the U.K. have been indefinitely held in detention centers and deported on secret flights. In her “citizens of nowhere” speech in 2016, she said that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Such a remark was widely regarded as ignoring the rights of people with multiple nationalities, including immigrants to Britain.
May’s departure will put British politics under greater strain and deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to pursue a more decisive split, causing a higher possibility for a confrontation with the EU and a snap parliamentary election. Besides the Brexit dilemma, whoever succeeds May will also face the formidable task of bringing certainty and confidence to the U.K.’s diplomatic relations and business ties with its major international partners, including China and the United States.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)