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Brexit has become a subplot to the battle for the post-May Tory party

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22.05.2019

Until quite recently, it was still accurate to say that the central problem in British party politics was Brexit. This week, that has imperceptibly but now decisively changed. Now, and probably for much of the coming summer, the central problem in British party politics is no longer Brexit itself but the character of the post-Theresa May Tory party.

May’s decline from the now hard-to-recall autumn of 2016, when she enjoyed the confidence of 87% of Tory voters and 54% of the whole electorate has been long and slow. The mishandling of the needless election of 2017 resulted in enormous self-inflicted damage. But even as the diminished May continued to battle on into the early part of this year to get her withdrawal agreement adopted, British politics was still essentially about Brexit rather than her.

That is no longer the case. Brexit has not gone away, but it has become a subplot to the battle for the Tory party. May’s own mistakes and the fanatical obsession of the rightwing of the Tory party that Brexit can be solved by a different leader have combined to destroy her last room for manoeuvre. Brexit is consequently stalled, its long-term outcome more than ever uncertain – which may be a good sign for pro-Europeans.

Meanwhile, the prime minister who launched a “new, bold” Brexit withdrawal plan at the start of the week is now struggling to publish it on Friday, and even to survive. If, in tomorrow’s European elections, May’s party scores the abject and record-breaking 7% score that a YouGov poll suggested this week, she will have to go, and not unreasonably. Fear of such a humbling may be the proximate cause of the flurry of efforts to oust her today. But it is surely too late to change the outcome in the elections.

In the Commons today, May went through the motions of launching her new withdrawal package. It was a lacklustre session. Almost all the passion and drama of the early spring on........

© The Guardian