Even if Mrs. May survives an attempt by rebels within her own party to oust her, she now seems unlikely to win parliamentary approval for her agreement.
“If she doesn’t see this through, she will go down in history as a poor leader,” said Rosa Prince, the author of a May biography. When Mrs. May’s predecessor, David Cameron, stepped down, Ms. Prince said, “everyone thought, ‘Who’s a safe pair of hands?’ If she can’t survive the chaos, the whole reason she was there falls down. She fails on her own terms, and on everyone else’s as well.”
If Mrs. May is removed from office in the coming months, Ms. Prince added, she will be one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in British history.
“She wants to be remembered for something,” Ms. Prince said.
Mrs. May’s gravest challenge on Thursday came from Jacob Rees-Mogg, a bespectacled Tory who styles himself after aristocratic gentlemen in the novels of P.G. Wodehouse. Mr. Rees-Mogg, a backbencher who opposes abortion and gay rights, and supports welfare cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy, was for years one of British politics’ favorite eccentrics, described by some as the “honorable member for the 18th century.”
But in the more fiercely ideological age ushered in by Brexit, Mr. Rees-Mogg has emerged as a charismatic leader, vigorously advocating for a full break from the European Union. And it was he, on Thursday, who most theatrically vowed to block the plan his “right honorable friend” — Mrs. May — had put forward.
“My right honorable friend — and she is unquestionably honorable — said we would leave the customs union. Annex 2 says otherwise,” Mr. Rees-Mogg said in a sonorous voice, referring to a part of the deal. “My right honorable friend said that she would maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom. A whole protocol says otherwise.”