By Claire Zillman
March 29, 2017

U.K. PM Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 today, launching the process of splitting Britain from the European Union and starting the negotiations to determine the U.K.’s future relationship with the 60-year-old bloc.

May will play the protagonist in what’s expected to be a two-year drama, but after just eight months in the role of prime minister, questions remain about what hand she’ll bring to the bargaining table.

This story in the Financial Times attempts to piece together a portrait of May: The Negotiator, based on how she’s struck deals in the past. Here are some of the main takeaways:

  1. She makes decisions only after exhaustively studying all the options. For instance, as home secretary in 2012, she decided—at the very last minute—against extraditing a Scottish man that the U.S. accused of hacking government computers, issuing her judgement as a plane prepared to take him to the U.S.
  2. She relies on facts rather than on personal relationships. Footage of her standing awkwardly apart from colleagues at a recent European summit is one piece of proof.
  3. She is unrelenting in defending her position. Says a former police chief: “There were times when I thought I could sit with Theresa May for 24 hours a day for the rest of time and [still not] manage to convince her that her position is wrong.”

Taken together, these factors indicate May will be a diligent and determined negotiator. “She is someone serious, meaning there was competence and frankness in our relations,” Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s prime minister and former interior minister, said of her. “To have an able interlocutor is always preferable to having one who isn’t.”

But some former counterparts see her rigidness as a flaw given the multilateral nature of the upcoming process. Nick Clegg, Britain’s former deputy prime minister under David Cameron told the FT: “[S]he will now need to develop quite different quicksilver skills—ingenuity, agility, an ability to think on her feet—when dealing with 27 other governments and parliaments, each with their own needs and bugbears.”

According to the paper, another colleague describes her style as “crab-like”—”she moves calmly and sideways” and “takes her time.” The next two years will prove whether she can adapt that approach amid the highest stakes and against the ultimate deadline.

@clairezillman

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