Most of the right-wing populists and political opportunists who lit the fire for Brexit found things too hot after they narrowly won the 2016 referendum. In recent months, a number have stepped down from cabinet posts and brayed at May from the sidelines.
The prime minister, who took power only after the referendum, became the steward of a thankless task: On one hand, she had to clinch a deal with Brussels that preserved at least some of the benefits of trading within Europe’s integrated economy. On the other hand, she had to pander to the zeal of the hard-line Brexiteers, who sold a vision of a swift and easy emancipation that was never viable in practice. Through it all, May persevered, though her critics from all sides may ask to what end.
“You have to admire her limpet-like stickability, you have to admire that,” lead Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage told the New York Times in a recent interview, before he too plunged the dagger. “She’s not just the worst prime minister I have seen in my lifetime, she’s the most duplicitous.” (There are growing calls to investigate the alleged “dark money” that helped fuel the 2016 Leave campaign, particularly efforts led by Farage, who remains a noisy commentator on the margins of British politics.)