Pity Theresa May. The British Prime Minister, unenviably tasked with leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union, has really got her hands full.
The massive political and diplomatic challenge of Brexit would test even a committed Leave partisan possessed of a winning manner and helpful colleagues.
Ms. May does not have any of those advantages. Instead, she believes Brexit is foolish, lacks charisma to an almost uncanny degree and presides over a nest of vipers in her own party who would love to see her fail.
Her position has never seemed less enviable than it does this week. With mere months to go before European negotiators expect to finalize a deal, Ms. May is in the midst of a full-blown cabinet revolt.
The unrest was sparked by her plans for a “soft” Brexit. After winning cabinet backing for the moderate proposal late last week, she received the resignations of her Brexit minister, David Davis, and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, in quick succession. They accused her, vividly and in public, of copping out.
A PM made of flimsier stuff would have resigned by now, or been forced out. Instead, Ms. May looks likely to weather this latest bout of chaos.
She may even emerge stronger for it, looking once again like the only grown-up in the room.
Her premiership has been anything but pretty, and a tidy Brexit remains out of reach. But her time in office has offered an object lesson in the political value of muddling through and seeking compromise.
Let’s recap how she got here. When former prime minister David Cameron resigned following the Brexit referendum – during which Ms. May backed Remain, albeit tepidly – the Conservative Party broke into internecine war over the choice of its next leader.
When the leading Leave candidates, including Mr. Johnson, proceeded to shiv one another, Ms. May emerged as a compromise option.
She was awkward and stiff, with none of BoJo’s roguish charm, but a competent six-year stint in charge of crime and immigration as the country’s home secretary spoke of seriousness at a time when it was needed.
A wonk at heart, Prime Minister May has since found her lack of political skill exposed at every turn. She called a snap election to strengthen her mandate and instead lost her majority thanks to an ungainly performance on the stump, emerging with a government propped up by a sectarian Protestant party from Northern Ireland.
The gaffes and tactical blunders have continued unabated, each pounced on delightedly by the British press. At the Conservative Party conference last year, she spoke through a persistent cough and had to soldier on bravely after the letter “f” fell from a rousing slogan hanging behind her on stage.
For two years, pundits and ambitious colleagues have kept a deathwatch on her premiership. But the current crisis may be her most daunting.
The “soft Brexit” plan she presented to her cabinet last week contained red meat for avid Leavers, such as curtailing the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain and ending the free movement of European citizens into the country.
But it also featured “business-friendly” provisions intended to mitigate the economic shock of departure and placate the EU, such as a modified customs union for agricultural and manufactured goods, and a “common rulebook” governing those products.
Alas, the plan is probably unacceptable both to hard-core Brexit Tories and the EU. Diehards like Mr. Davis are already balking at the idea of harmonizing regulations with Europe. Eurocrats, meanwhile, are unlikely to let Britain cherry-pick free trade in goods while ditching the free movement of people.
In fact, given the British right’s appetite for a clean break with the EU, and the EU’s incentive to inflict economic pain on Britain as a lesson to other nations flirting with departure, a no-deal Brexit may still be in the offing.
That would be a disaster for Britain, and Ms. May knows it. Right now, she’s desperately trying to save her country from its worst instincts, while respecting a plausible interpretation of its democratic will.
It probably won’t work. But it’s hard to fault her for trying.