Her many shortcomings notwithstanding, British Prime Minister Theresa May has a singular ability to bear humiliations with dignity. Faced with sure defeat in Parliament over her Brexit transitional roadmap agreement with the European Union, May yesterday called off the vote at the 11th hour. She now heads to Brussels in an effort to gain some concessions from her EU counterparts, particularly over the Northern Ireland backstop arrangements, despite ironclad declarations from various EU officials that there would be no further negotiations.
If May can take any consolation from this predictable and predicted turn of events, it’s that few if any of the European leaders she will meet with later this week will be feeling much more secure than she.
The most prominent among them is French President Emmanuel Macron. May and Macron first met to discuss Brexit negotiations back in June 2017. May was similarly wounded back then by her recent setback in early parliamentary elections, in which she lost the Conservative Party’s majority. By contrast, Macron had just run the table by winning a dark horse presidential campaign and an overwhelming parliamentary majority for his movement-turned-party, the Republic on the Move. The path seemed clear for him to advance an ambitious package of domestic structural reforms and parlay them into consensus with Berlin over his equally ambitious EU-level reforms.