I’ve explained what I believe the prime minister should do at several points during her premiership. Although I have been wrong on many things since I started this blog (most notably being sure the Tories would get a massive majority after the 2017 general election was called), I can’t look back and say any advice I’ve ever given to Theresa May wasn’t correct. After she gave the Lancaster House speech in January 2017, I was asked what she should do next. “Resign immediate,” I said. “She will never be able to come remotely close to achieving almost anything she has promised in that speech. If she quits now, citing her health, she can be fondly remembered by some people. If she pushes ahead, she will become hated by almost everyone.”
May’s attempt to get the EU to reopen the deal and fiddle the backstop has gone precisely nowhere, as anyone with any sense would have predicted. She now has to push ahead with the meaningful vote next week anyhow. The deal is almost certain to fail, again by a large margin. To follow will be a vote on no deal, which will lose, and a vote on whether or not to extend the Article 50 period, which will win.
Questions abound about what May should do now, given all of this as background. I think it’s pretty simple. The fate of the deal, without having to resort to a second referendum or anything such as that, is down to whether or not the ERG bloc vote it through. That’s it; there’s nothing more complicated to it than that. If I were May, I would tell the ERG in private that unless they back the deal, she will whip the party to vote for a long extension, pretty much agreeing to the 21 months the EU has bandied about as a possibility. Then, announce this in public as your intention.
Of course, some will say, “Oh but then she’ll be finished.” Her premiership is finished anyhow! It can’t last very much longer no matter what happens. She might as well use every lever at her disposal and try and get her deal through. This idea that she can play semi-nice for now and then after parliament votes through an extension, count on the ERG bunch to panic, is madness. They have already said this won’t change their minds. May might as well play the cards in front of her as best as she can. Mind you, that has never been her way.