LONDON – Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has a monumental task ahead of her: fulfilling British – or, more accurately, English and Welsh – voters’ demand to “Brexit” the European Union, and managing the far-reaching consequences of that effort. Her challenge dwarfs those faced by her recent predecessors. But she may well be up to it.
No one should underestimate May. Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has proved her mettle in successive crises, May has all the tools she needs to get things done. She is clever and tough, with little patience for nonsense. She has a strong sense of public service, and an equally strong set of values. She carries little ideological baggage, and is adept at staying in control, operating within self-imposed boundaries that keep her on familiar terrain.
May wins most of the battles she fights, and shows little mercy to those who have used underhanded tactics against her. Yet she has few known enemies within her party and is popular with its rank and file. It is a robust combination – one that she will need to use fully as she attempts to lead Britain out of the EU.
And make no mistake: Britain is on its way out. May has repeatedly stated that there can be no going back on the vote to leave, even though Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay. “Brexit means Brexit,” she insists, with her ministers echoing her refrain.