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‘Brexit means Brexit’: Theresa May and post-referendum British politics

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Theresa May became prime minister in July 2016 as a direct result of the Brexit referendum. This article examines her political inheritance and leadership in the immediate wake of the vote. It analyses the factors that led to her victory in the ensuing Tory leadership contest and explores both the main challenges that confronted her and the main features of her response to them. During her first 9 months in office, May gave effect to the referendum, defined Brexit as entailing Britain’s removal from membership of the European Union’s single market and customs union and sought to reposition her party. However, her failure to secure a majority in the 2017 general election gravely weakened her authority and the viability of her plans. At time of writing, it is unclear how much longer her premiership can last or if she will be able to exercise effective leadership over Brexit.

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  1. Although the Conservatives’ 330 MPs (out of 650) suggested an absolute majority of only ten, the four Sinn Féin MPs refused to take their seats in the House of Commons, and neither the speaker nor his three deputies—one Tory and two Labour MPs—would be expected to vote. As a result, the government’s majority was 16 in practice.

  2. This proportion refers to the seven out of 27 ministers entitled to attend cabinet.


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Allen, N. ‘Brexit means Brexit’: Theresa May and post-referendum British politics. Br Polit 13, 105–120 (2018).

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