LONDON—When Theresa May took to the dispatch box to stage yet another—ultimately futile—defense of her Brexit deal before the House of Commons, she was barely audible. The British prime minister had lost her voice.
Observers described the scene as “painful” and “awful to watch.” Even those who stood to contest her deal couldn’t help but express some sympathy. “Most of us when we’re unwell can take to our beds,” said the independent lawmaker Anna Soubry, who just weeks earlier had resigned from May’s Conservative Party over its handling of Brexit. “This prime minister simply battles on, and that’s appreciated.”
Such is the cult of sympathy for May. Love or hate her Brexit strategy, abhor or defend her political record, support for the prime minister has remained a relative constant for the past two and a half years. But after suffering another crushing blow to her negotiated agreement on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, this time by a vote of 391–242, within weeks of Britain’s scheduled departure, that sympathy appears to be wearing thin.
In many ways, May has been treated as the underdog of Brexit. The common refrain is that she has been given an impossible brief: to deliver on a referendum result she didn’t support, all while battling EU negotiators, an emboldened opposition, and rebellious members of her own party. She has survived innumerable crises, from deadlocked negotiations with Brussels to cabinet resignations and efforts to undermine her leadership. Where other prime ministers might have resigned, she stood firm, earning accolades for her dogged resilience. And despite May losing her governing majority, numerous ministers, and the confidence of nearly a third of her Conservative Party colleagues, more Britons prefer her in Downing Street over the opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.