Theresa May is “a bloody difficult woman” in a bloody difficult place. That’s what she was called in a delightfully frank off-air studio conversation between Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Ken Clarke, picked up by a live microphone. She has embraced the put-down, promising to be tough with Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the European Commission. But May, who sided with David Cameron on Brexit, will now be the fall girl who triggers Article 50 of the treaty which binds Europe together, and begins the process of secession. May is in the hot seat because she was the last woman standing in the elimination round, after the main contenders fled the field. In fact, she has made one of them, Boris Johnson, foreign minister of her government, inspiring global incredulity.
May is that interestingly contradictory politician unfortunately unknown in Indian politics — the liberal conservative. For instance, she identifies herself as feminist and became a Conservative mascot for the movement in support of gay civil unions. Yet the gay community was strongly critical of her appointment as minister for women and equality in 2010 because towards the beginning of the decade, she had opposed liberalisation of gay adoption.
Despite her conviction against Brexit, one of May’s first public pronouncements as prime minister was to declare the referendum irreversible. It is interesting that May is the person with her finger on the trigger of Article 50, given her anti-immigrant history. The “leavers” had won the referendum by projecting scare scenarios of a Britain overrun by caricatures of ragtag Syrian refugees and shifty Europeans, and their legacy is the growing number of petty racist incidents being reported from John Bull’s island, which was explicitly committed to multiculturalism by Tony Blair’s government. May had rejected the EU proposal for compulsory immigrant quotas and has disparaged the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, believing them to be prejudicial to the sovereignty of UK law. To the extent that she is a strong defender of Fortress Europe, the second woman to head the UK government — both Conservative, interestingly — is the “right” person to action Brexit. It’s at some political risk, though. Posterity may associate her name with the turmoil that secession will likely bring to the world order.
Already, Brexit-related volatility has forced European financial institutions to firewall themselves. When Article 50 is actually triggered, it could spark off more financial, political and social unpleasantness.