With a crunch Cabinet meeting at Chequers on Friday on Brexit – another “make or break” meeting at Chequers, which as ever is being billed as something from which a fudge cannot emerge – talk switches to what will happen if the ERG group do not get their way. I don’t really even know what getting their way would like in pragmatic terms, but at this stage that is hardly the point. The question is, if they don’t feel like they are getting their way, will they order a vote of no confidence in Theresa May?
Just like there is every reason to think that what emerges from Chequers this Friday will be another fudge, even though we’re being told the time for fudges has passed, we have every reason to doubt the true Brexit types will actually bring down May. Basically, they have form in this arena. Given a chance to have a real Brexiteer as PM in Michael Gove, they massively chocked and ended up with May in the first place. Everything since has flowed from this very basic error. It has been clear for a very long time that the Prime Minister would either like or feels unable to prevent a very soft Brexit, and yet she has remained in post. Therefore, I doubt that this late in the game they will get rid of her. There is a real risk to Brexit itself in doing so, not to mention a possibility – although one more remote than most on the Left will care to acknowledge – of a Corbyn-led government coming to power.
But what if they did try and topple May? The most likely thing that would happen is that May would get the votes to stay in post in the no confidence vote. Begrudgingly, and with every intention of getting rid of her within the next year, but most of the Conservative parliamentary party would not be happy to see her defenestrated at this exact stage. For Remainers, it is would be fear of destabilisation; for soft Brexiteers, the fear of Brexit failing to happen in the ensuing chaos. No one really wants a leadership contest right this second anyhow for loads of other reasons.
Okay, but what if May failed at that stage and really did depart Number 10? Any new Tory leader would be faced with the same tough choices. And I don’t think any of the leadership candidates would really pull the trigger on a no deal Brexit given they would then be responsible for whatever happened next. So, the can would most likely be kicked even further down the road. Whether they like it or not, the true Brexiteers are stuck with May for the near future.
In previous articles you have expressed that however bad the Tories are Corbyn would be n times worse. However where you write “Any new Tory leader would be faced with the same tough choices …”, the same can be said for any Labour leader.
I cannot see that Corbyn could get through Brexit; it might be easier for him to plead for extra time, but the pressure on a Brexit In Name Only would be even more intense.
As I see it, May will do as she did for phase 1: she will fudge and smudge her way to December until there are no options left. At which point, what the nutters and fruitcakes do cannot be predicted, however wit March 29 in sight, they are likely to run true to form.
An agreement would stipulate very limited options for the UK, however, whatever May signs up to in December will be disputed and claimed by the nutters to be very time limited – and so it will go on, with another deadline around mid 2020 that the government (and Labour) will be utterly incapable of agreeing on.
The real danger of an election that Labour win is the consequences of a coup d’état in the Tory Party, who, buoyed up by a tabloid frenzy, will out-UKIP UKIP.
The only disinfectant that I can see is a sharp economic downturn, with collapsing government revenues and mounting unemployment. At which point there might, just possibly, be an agitated plea to have adults at the helm.
I still think we’re heading for no-deal: the EU thinks that it has the UK over a barrel and so will offer only a terrible deal, thinking that either the UK takes it and agrees to become a vassal state, or the UK revokes Article 50. They also have no incentive to offer an extension to article 50, even if the UK were to request one.
However, the deal being so terrible, it won’t get Parliamentary support. But there’s no Parliamentary will to revoke article 50 either. So, come the 29th of March, the UK leaves the EU by automatic operation of law.
So I think you’re right: the Leave faction realises that all they have to do is keep May in post and this scenario will then play out.
Paul W says
It only needs 48 disgruntled Conservative MPs to cause a no-confidence vote in Mrs May. That is within the bounds of possibility. While it is far from certain that she would lose the subsequent vote, these exercises have a momentum of their own. Remember what happened to John Major in his ‘put up or shut up’ leadership election of 1995: he polled ‘only’ 219 out of 329 possible votes – just shy of a two-thirds majority. It did him little good: he was walking wounded thereafter.
Even so, I agree with Martin that Jeremy Corbyn would find steering Brexit through, (although some form of Brexit is now on auto-pilot for 29 March 2019), just as tricky in a diplomatic sense as Mrs May – even if his own backbenchers would (probably) be easier to manage. It is a fair bet to say that the Conservative party would swing to the right in opposition to a Corbyn-led government – just as it did after the Labour party won the October 1974 election (narrowly) on a left-wing manifesto. The Conservative party would owe Labour no favours.
But where I do part company with Martin is the idea that there could be an economic downturn after a no- deal Brexit. Why? Because as WTO legal expert, Professor David Collins of the City University of London, has pointed out elsewhere, the scenarios which worry people most are covered by WTO rules already. Unless, that is, you think the European Union intends to break the rules and stray into illegality.
even if his own backbenchers would (probably) be easier to manage
The Labour party is only barely holding together over Brexit as it is, and all they have to decide is on exactly what line they are going to oppose whatever the government does. Even they they are having to have free votes because the MPs disagree with the leadership (and with each other).
If they were actually in government, and having to take positive decisions. all Hell would break loose.
With Corbyn pushing for Brexit, it would be very chaotic and he would have to cosy up to Tory Brexiters to have any chance of a majority. A large number of Labour MPs would not follow Corbyn. A pragmatic least damage, perhaps remaining, labour leader would be able to rely on Lib Dem, SNP and a few Conservatives.
Paul W says
I’m assuming that Corbyn would finesse some kind of rhetorical ‘jobs first’ soft Brexit that the majority of his MPs could go along with – even if it wasn’t their preferred option. That, I think, would still be for Remain. But that option is no longer on the table.
Surely the scariest scenario for Tory Brexiteers is that they kick May out, leading to an another inconclusive result – but Labour is biggest party, and the SNP and Lib Dems taking more seats on a targeted ‘stop / super soft Brexit’ platform. Corbyn then has a big choice to make, especially if Unite & Momentum continue to move towards a ‘final say’ vote.
Corbyn winning an election with a small overall majority isn’t likely or so much of a problem. He still gets Brexit over the line, but can’t really get his other policies through. 6 – 9 months later he is toppled by his own Labour party opponents and the new right wing Tories sweep to power with an election motto of ‘The Socialist Experiment has Failed’. Then they start delivering the Brexit they want.
In the end though the Tories on both sides will fluster and bluster but keep voting to accept whatever turd May is serving up to them as fudge. The instinct to survive in power at any cost is ingrained in all of them.