Enough drama: let’s hope women can bring Brexit to a conclusion

Gwynne Dyer says the last woman standing will become British prime minister on Wednesday, and though she has pledged to carry out voters’ wishes and take Britain out of the EU, she may have no idea how to actually do it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 7:02pm

It’s a bit like a Shakespeare play – specifically the final scene of Hamlet, when almost all the play’s major characters die violently. And now we’re down to one. Her name is Theresa May.

It has been barely three weeks since the UK (or at least, 52 per cent of those who voted) chose to leave the European Union, but all the Brexit leaders have left the stage. The Conservative Party has always been notable for its ruthlessness, and leaders who threaten to split the party get short shrift.

The first to go was Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum expecting that a pro-EU outcome would finally make the anti-EU obsessives on the right of his party shut up. It was a needless, fatal blunder.

Cameron allowed some of his own cabinet members to campaign for Brexit, in the belief that they would return to the fold, chastened by defeat, when the country voted for Remain. Instead, the Leave campaign won, and Cameron announced his resignation the morning after the referendum.

However, he said that he would stay in office until October to give the party time to choose a new leader. Then the slaughter started.

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It was assumed that one of the pro-Brexit Conservative leaders would replace Cameron, most likely Boris Johnson. But he was clearly shocked by the prospect of actually having to lead the country into the post-Brexit wilderness. Johnson disappeared for four days after the referendum, which gave the co-leader of the Brexit campaign, justice minister Michael Gove, time to plan a coup against him. Gove was supposed to be running Johnson’s campaign, but instead he announced that Johnson was not up to the job and declared that he was running for the leadership himself.

Gove’s treachery was so blatant that even his fellow Conservatives turned against him

Johnson withdrew, and Gove’s treachery was so blatant that even his fellow Conservatives turned against him. For comic relief, Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, also quit. All the main Brexit leaders were gone, leaving only Andrea Leadsom as a pro-Brexit contender for the Conservative leadership.

Leadsom was a hard-right pro-Brexiter who only entered Parliament in 2010. She would never normally be seen as a prime minister, and her views were so extreme – marriage should only be for Christians, not gays; bring back fox-hunting – that she probably could not win a general election. But Conservative members of Parliament worried that she might win the leadership race anyway, because the people who decide that are the 150,000 paid-up party members, a socially conservative, middle-class group with an average age of 60. So the pressure on Leadsom to step aside grew.

On Monday morning, Leadsom caved in, ensuring that the last woman standing, home secretary Theresa May, will be the new British prime minister. There will be no split in the party, and no three-month hiatus in politics. May is seen as a “safe pair of hands” and she will be in office by Wednesday.

May supported Remain in the referendum, but very quietly. She has now pledged to carry out the wishes of the voters and lead Britain out of the EU – but that doesn’t mean she has the faintest idea how to do it.

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The Guardian said: “It is now brutally clear that there is not a plan – no plan for how and when Britain leaves, no plan for future relations with Europe, and no plan at all for how political assent might be secured for any of the imperfect political options on offer.”

But cheer up. Assuming that Angela Merkel remains chancellor of Germany and Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election in November, by year’s end the three biggest Western countries will all be run by women. Maybe they can sort it all out.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist