Theresa May: doomed to be burnt at Brexit stake

British PM may have outfoxed colleagues to win position but hers is an impossible space

It's said British prime minister Theresa May plays her cards close to her chest; that even cabinet colleagues don't know where she stands on various issues.

During the Brexit campaign, she positioned herself on the Remain side, but infuriated colleagues by refusing to fight for the cause while doing little to scotch rumours she was a closet Brexiteer.

Her delicate balancing act, while cynical, paid off. When the post-referendum bloodletting ended, she was the only candidate amenable to both camps and her coronation was largely unopposed. She gamed the system and won. These aren’t the actions of a political chameleon, as some commentators contend, just everyday politicking.

Recent revelations that she warned Goldman Sachs bankers on the perils of Brexit a month ahead of the vote while she now champions the case for a hard Brexit are not really revelations at all. Politics wouldn’t be politics without the manipulation of contradictory forces.


Tougher negotiator

May cuts a markedly different figure to her media-friendly, big-picture predecessor. It's obvious she has an eye for detail and she's also likely to be a tougher negotiator – not attributes with which Cameron was credited.

These will be assets in the upcoming exit negotiations, but the problem for May is that she inhabits an impossible political space.

On the one hand she must prove her Brexit credentials by presiding over Britain’s retreat from the largest consumer market in the world, a move that’s likely to involve a major economic reversal. With a majority in the House of Commons opposed to Brexit, it’s hard to see how she can hold the line in the face of such a contraction.

Conversely, if she buckles and deviates from the current course she will be devoured by the ruling Brexit clique. Chancellor Philip Hammond is already in the crosshairs for simply presenting some of the economic realities of the new paradigm.

There are few politicians who could navigate the current Tory party, riven as it is by factionalism and infighting, let alone the country’s stated political trajectory. Politics in Britain, as in many other countries, is realigning and both main parties appear to be fracturing as a result.