Is Brexit better off without Theresa May

May leaves a pile of broken glass, but her successor has to do better first

Theresa May had long rejected a compromise solution for Brexit. When political realities made it necessary, it was too late. You could not find a majority for it in parliament. Your resignation does not solve anything.

Basically, Theresa May only had one job as Prime Minister: to bring Great Britain out of the EU. That's why she failed. Exactly the same task is now waiting for her successor, and there are still doubts about its solvability. The next prime minister will therefore take office in a situation for which there is hardly any precedent.

That was all different when Theresa May took office in the summer of 2016. After the political earthquake caused by the Brexit decision, the then interior minister quickly won the electoral battle for the successor to David Cameron. She promised the country a steadfast policy. It is almost forgotten today that she also explicitly promised to stand up specifically for the socially disadvantaged and to end the austerity policy that had contributed to intensifying polarization in British society since the financial crisis. But May's tragedy was that Brexit almost completely displaced all other issues.

Process of radicalization

May himself had voted against leaving the EU, but showed herself as prime minister as a convert. She made her first tactical mistake when she, together with a small group of close advisers, laid down the basic lines of her Brexit policy without first ensuring the support of the majority in her party and faction. Convincing people in personal exchanges with other actors was not their thing. She fended off criticism of her approach, statements such as “Brexit means Brexit” served as a rhetorical facade.

It was never clear what exactly the Brexit verdict of the voters meant: When it came to the decision to leave the EU, it remained open what the ultimate goal should look like. But among the Brexit supporters in the Tory party, a radicalization process got underway that soon became unstoppable. May for her part promoted him by drawing "red lines". After it had declared the exit from the internal market and customs union to be indispensable, it could no longer lag behind. From then on, the scope for compromise was severely restricted.

But May committed her most fatal political misjudgment when she believed that new elections would give herself a clear mandate and thus discipline her internal party opponents. She achieved the opposite: after the disaster of the general election in June 2017, she was included in her own party because she now had a reputation for unpopularity, which she could no longer get rid of.

Trenches in British Society

For a moment, it seemed that the unhappy Prime Minister could come close to her goal: In autumn 2018, she was able to agree on an exit agreement with the EU negotiators. But this quickly met with a wall of rejection in the lower house, while the same parliament was unable to decide on an alternative. It was a victory of the ethics of conviction over the ethics of responsibility, which May had nothing to oppose except her sense of duty and her persistence.

The departure of Theresa May alone does nothing to bring the Brexit dilemma closer to a solution. Not only must the future relationship with Europe be clarified, but above all the rifts that have opened up in British society in recent years must also be filled in. If her successor does not succeed in this, his term of office is likely to be even shorter than May's.