Inside Theresa May’s Great British Failure

LONDON — Theresa May knew the futility of her last stand, but was determined to make it anyway. She needed it.

The prime minister and her closest aides and officials had gathered in her office in No. 10 Downing Street to discuss their next steps following the collapse of cross-party talks with Labour.

It was May 16, 2019 — and no one in the room could see a way forward. Their only option was to make one last offer to MPs: a chance to vote for a second referendum.

“Are you telling me it’s not going to work?” May asked the assembled aides sitting around her table or on sofas nearby, according one senior official familiar with the discussion that day. Her aides did not sugarcoat it: None thought it would work.

It was the moment May and her team had tried for so long to avoid — the end of the road. From that point it was only a matter of time. But the prime minister was determined to roll the dice anyway.

Theresa May had inherited the biggest political challenge for any U.K. prime minister since 1945.

The scene reveals a prime minister whose commitment, duty and determination crashed up against an almost unprecedented evaporation of authority, power and influence after a series of catastrophic miscalculations. None was more damaging than her decision to call a snap general election in 2017, robbing her of the majority she needed to take Britain out of the EU with a deal acceptable to her Conservative Party.

“The imperceptible and unquantifiable phenomenon of political power” had drained away,

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