(Bloomberg) -- With her husband at her side, a weary Theresa May walked into the polling station in her home village, west of London, and cast her vote for the Conservatives. Her party, however, is not voting for her.
Britain’s 62-year-old prime minister is standing down and Thursday’s European Parliament elections are a painful symbol of her failure to deliver the policy that defined her rule: Brexit.
The U.K. should have left the European Union on March 29. The country is in limbo. Businesses crave resolution, while protest movements and fringe politics are on the rise.
Even the Houses of Parliament -- the heart of Britain’s establishment -- are crumbling. Big Ben lies invisible behind renovators’ scaffolding, Westminster’s ancient masonry cracks and falls, and the corridors of the Commons are overrun with mice.
May’s inability to persuade Conservatives to vote for her Brexit deal forced her to delay the departure and allow the European elections to go ahead.
Tories have run out of patience with her stubborn refusal to accept they will never vote for her deal. Now they are forcing her to announce her own exit date on Friday.
“I have tried everything I possibly can to find a way through,” May said Tuesday. “But I don’t think that means we should give up.”
May’s colleagues disagreed. Her proposal for a possible second referendum was the final straw. After a day of secret plotting in darkened rooms Wednesday, a top cabinet minister walked out.
The chaos has had one big winner. Nigel Farage returned to frontline politics to lead a new single-issue group -- the Brexit Party -- and looks set to triumph again. The pint-swilling populist is rarely stuck for a laugh and opinion polls suggest he will have reason to down another beer when the election results are announced.
May’s Tories, meanwhile, are braced for potentially the worst result in their history, with some fearing they could end up without any representation at all.
The great worry for moderate Conservatives is that MPs learn the wrong lessons from defeat: Instead of embracing compromise, terrified Tories feel they must mimic the hardline Farage.
Conservatives will soon choose a new leader, and the fear of Farage will boost the appeal of candidates who advocate a hard Brexit, or leaving with no deal at all.
With May on the way out, that anxiety means one thing: a likely surge in support for the Tories’ very own populist figurehead, Boris Johnson. As London braces for another upheaval, Farage might not be the only man drinking when the dust clears.
(This story is part of a series of “Postcards” from European capitals, which take a look at national implications of the vote for European Parliament.)
--With assistance from Zoe Schneeweiss.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Ross in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at email@example.com, Chris Reiter
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