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Here's How Badly Things Are Going For Theresa May: A Guide For Americans

Theresa May is having a very bad day. Well, week. Well, more like epoch.

Posted on July 9, 2018, at 4:09 p.m. ET

Things aren't great in the ol' United Kingdom right now, especially for Prime Minister Theresa May!

Simon Dawson / Reuters

Monday is arguably the worst day in a very, very long string of bad days for May, so let's rewind a bit to see how we got to the point that May could lose her job and the UK may lose out on the chance to decide just how its split with the European Union actually goes.

A few years ago, this guy promised a referendum and boy, did one happen!

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

Prime Minister David Cameron — then-head of the Conservative Party, also known as the Tories — had been facing a lot of guff from his right flank over the UK's membership in the European Union, especially when it came to migration. In part to quiet the ranks, Cameron promised that if the Tories won the general election in 2015, the UK would hold a referendum on EU membership. They did and so they did!

(If you want a recap of that whole debate plus some Harry Potter GIFs, here you go.)

The short of it is that in a shocking surprise, the Leave campaign won out over the Remain crowd by a narrow 52% to 48% vote. Cameron resigned the next day and could be heard humming cheerfully as he walked away from the whole mess.

Some people were not happy!

John Macdougall / AFP / Getty Images

The close vote meant that those who wanted to remain in the EU — especially those in Scotland and Northern Ireland who overwhelming backed Remain — have been furious ever since. Some Remainers have been trying to find some way to at least soften the exit as much as possible, pairing with Leave supporters who want to keep some of the benefits of the EU's free trade and free movement of people.

Some people were happy but less than optimally happy, like, 83% happy!

Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images

Conservative MP Boris Johnson was a leading Brexit campaigner who, after Cameron resigned, was one of a slew of Tories who tried to take over the leadership of the party. He was one of those in favor of a so-called "Hard Brexit" — a total break with the EU and all of its regulations and bureaucracy. Then–home secretary Theresa May eventually won out in the proverbial knife fight and became the head of the Conservatives and prime minister.

He and his fellow Brexiteers did wind up with posts in the Cabinet, but it's been divided almost from day one on just how to actually make Brexit happen.

And some people — namely the European Union — were like, "WTF okay, bad call, bc this is going to hurt!"

Omer Messinger / AFP / Getty Images

The European Union's remaining 27 members have been clear from the jump that their negotiating position would be one in which Brexit is as punishing an ordeal as possible for the UK.

And there's a deadline on this whole thing: May triggered Article 50 last year, starting the clock on the UK's March 2019 exit. The EU wants to get the whole thing hammered out months before that actually happens, which has not been a boon for the UK.

May held an election last year to try to shore up her party's position in the negotiations, but wow did that not work so much!

Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty Images

May held a majority before the election but actually lost seats in the House of Commons, forcing the Tories to ally with the fringe DUP in Northern Ireland to actually get the Queen's permission to build a government.

Meanwhile, May's own government has acknowledged in private that under any exit scenario, the UK is going to be worse off. So that's not great for them!

After roughly two years of this dynamic, May on Friday gathered her Cabinet here, the PM's country home of Chequers, to finally hammer out a UK position on Brexit!

Chris Radburn / Reuters

The drama leading up the summit was almost delectably British, full of reports that politicians were warned that if they resigned during the meeting, they'd have to walk the milelong driveway from Chequers to the street without the benefit of a car.

It went fine! If by "fine," you mean "terribly"!

John Phillips / Getty Images

In the end, the Cabinet did wind up approving a plan that would see the UK try to keep a "common rulebook" with the EU and form some kind of free trade agreement with the bloc.

But her secretary of state for exiting the European Union — leading Brexiteer David Davis — resigned over the Chequers plan! Which is not a ringing endorsement!

This guy — Dominic Raab, another committed Brexiteer — now has to do the thing and actually negotiate a Brexit based on the May government's plans!

Tolga Akmen / AFP / Getty Images

Then on Monday, July 9, Boris Johnson resigned! That's also not a great look for May!

Tolga Akmen / AFP / Getty Images

In his resignation letter, Johnson said that May was "heading for a semi-Brexit" under her plan and that the UK was "truly headed for the state of colony" under Brussels.

By Monday evening, May had named Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt as Johnson's replacement.

Then half an hour after Johnson resigned, she had to go present her plan to parliament, which was decidedly apprehensive!

UK Parliament

But it all might be a moot point because the EU is already side-eyeing May's plan!

Ben Stansall / AFP / Getty Images

"The EU27’s initial assessment, the details of which have been seen by BuzzFeed News, is that proposals included in the paper – such as remaining in the single market for goods without the single market’s other freedoms (people, services, and capital), and a clear legal oversight mechanism – are unacceptable," BuzzFeed News' Alberto Nardelli reported on Saturday.

There are rumors that May might actually face a no-confidence vote from her party! That'd be huge!

Whispers Tory MP s have reached the magic number of the 48 letters required to force a confidence vote - no way of knowing yet if true - meeting at 5.30

If May lost a no-confidence vote — which would be triggered if at least 48 Conservative MPs demanded one — she'd be out as prime minister just over eight months before the UK leaves the EU for good. As of Monday evening, the threshold for a challenge hadn't been reached and Brexiteers said they were focused on attacking the policy, not the leader.

But the fact remains that the collapse of the May government would likely bring about ANOTHER general election, the third in four years in the UK, which may finally drive the whole island to the brink of madness!

Jonathan Brady / AFP / Getty Images

In the off year the Brits voted on Brexit so everyone is understandable VERY TIRED OF QUEUEING UP AT THE POLLS.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn seems to be feeling pretty good at this point but probably shouldn't if we are being honest!

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Corbyn has never been well-placed on Brexit, both refusing to campaign heavily for Remain in the run-up and when he did, it was pretty half-hearted. Plus, he's not exactly in a spot to be a fount of leadership in the EU talks, given how much of his Shadow Cabinet has resigned and/or been replaced in the last few years over his choices and the anti-semitism fight still going on in his party.

AND there have also been calls for ANOTHER referendum based on whatever the EU and UK agree on — or to just do the whole dang Brexit vote over again — so that could be fun!

John Macdougall / AFP / Getty Images

And to top things off, this is all happening in the same week that May has a NATO summit and Donald Trump's first visit to the UK as president to deal with, alongside the fallout from UK citizens' recent exposure to a Russian nerve agent!

Pool / Getty Images

In summation:


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.