The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: Enter the Boris

The EU 12-star flag, with one star blinking, overlaid on a photo of Boris Johnson with his mouth open.
Britain’s former foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaks at an event at JCB in Rocester, central England, on Jan. 18.
Animation by Slate. Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images.

Is this really the beginning of the end for Theresa May? The prime minister has defied predictions of her political demise so many times that it’s tempting to assume she’ll just continue to stay in office, flogging her hated withdrawal agreement, until Big Ben crumbles to dust. But after an announcement Thursday, it does look like her departure is coming sooner rather than later.

This week in Theresa May: The PM met on Thursday with the 1922 Committee, the powerful group of Tory backbenchers who oversee party leadership contests. According to the committee’s chairman, May agreed to set out a timetable for her departure in the first week of June, after she again attempts to get the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with Europe approved by Parliament. Yes, that’s the same withdrawal agreement that Parliament has now rejected three times.

This is a bit of a reprieve for May, since members of the committee had been considering amending the party’s rules to allow a vote of no confidence to force her from power. The first week of June is also when Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the U.K., so all in all it should be a fun week for her.

This week in Theresa and Jeremy: In talks on Tuesday, May gave Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn an ultimatum, saying that he needs to make up his mind on whether to support her withdrawal agreement and that she would bring the agreement up for another vote on June 4 or 5 regardless.

To review, May is negotiating with Corbyn about this because Brexiteers in her own party and her coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, are implacably opposed to the agreement. To win over Labour’s support, May is reportedly offering to keep Britain in a close customs arrangement with Europe and uphold some EU standards on workers’ rights and environmental protections.

This does not, it seems, go far enough for Corbyn, who is also under pressure from members of his own party not to agree to any deal that does not include a second public referendum on Brexit.

The upshot of this is that May’s deal looks set to fail for an impressive fourth time.

This week in polls: British voters will cast ballots next week for the European Parliament elections that were never supposed to happen because Britain was supposed to be out of the EU by now, and, wow, do things look bad for the Tories. One recent poll has them in fifth place, behind nearly every major party, as they hemorrhage support to Nigel Farage’s self-explanatory Brexit Party. European elections are typically considered low-stakes affairs where protest votes are common, but more alarming may be a Sunday Telegraph poll, which found that the Conservatives would come in third behind Labour and the Brexit Party in parliamentary elections.

Not that Labour has any right to gloat. A YouGov poll this week found that only 13 percent of voters find the party’s stance on Brexit clear, a lower level than for any other major party. Corbyn has made clear that he wants to move beyond the Brexit debate and focus on the traditional economic and social differences between the parties, but the Brexit crisis isn’t going away, and the party looks set to continue to bleed support to ones with clearer pro- or anti-Brexit stances.

This week in Boris: With May’s departure now officially in sight, the contest to replace her— which has not officially been happening but has definitely been happening—will now kick into high gear. Early out of the gate is former London mayor and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said, “Of course I’m going to go for it,” at a business event in Manchester on Thursday. The voluble Johnson, one of Britain’s most well-known politicians and one of its most controversial, was a leading campaigner for leaving the EU and resigned from May’s cabinet over her Brexit strategy.

Johnson has made clear that, unlike May, he doesn’t see the option of a “no deal” Brexit as exceedingly objectionable and thinks warnings that it would devastate the British economy are overblown. If he, or another hard-line Brexiteer, takes over for May, there’s a higher likelihood that he’ll find out if the warnings were right.

Days until next deadline: 169