Parts of Westminster are aflutter with the notion that we could have a new prime minister soon. I don’t see it. I realise the ERG group and their affiliates are annoyed with May and feel betrayed by her; but the window to get rid of her has very long since passed. Further, their feelings of betrayal are somewhat silly – they should have known how this was going to play out sometime ago. The clues were staggering in their obviousness.
First off, it was kind of game set and match back in June of 2017 when David Davis went to Brussels and accepted the EU’s timetable on the negotiations, crucially agreeing that things like the Irish border problem and the divorce payment must be agreed first before moving onto trade talks. It was clear from there where the road would lead and thus, it has, at every single step. Then you had the agreement to the Irish border backstop in December. Did the ERG group not understand what that actually meant at the time?
In other words, I have long puzzled how the Tory Brexiteers didn’t comprehend that what we were heading towards was a pretty soft Brexit, right from the get go. It was always obvious, if you understood anything about what was happening.
Now, it is too late. We’ve come to Brexit crunch time, with just over six months left before the Article 50 period comes to a close. If the ERG group sparks a no confidence vote, the parliamentary Conservative party will rally around her – simply because of the timing, nothing else, but that will be enough to save her. This is because there would be huge fear about sparking a leadership contest right this second from both Remainers and Leavers (actually even more so from the moderate Leavers, who would rightly fear that May being deposed now could derail Brexit entirely). Then she will be technically safe for a year from another challenge, meaning she can get Labour votes to get her Brexit plan through parliament with much less fear.
Perhaps this all a big show: a means of putting themselves in the store window for the Tory membership ahead of what will be the real leadership contest next summer. Perhaps. I don’t understand what they are actually trying to achieve otherwise.
Paul W says
Even if the fabled 48 trigger letters went in, the Brexiteer malcontents would need more than one hundred extra supporters to win a confidence vote. So I think you are right to be sceptical about the likely success of that political manoeuvre. It looks to me as though we are inching towards a draft Withdrawal agreement on the lines of the Chequers proposal. As there probably won’t be another detailed scheme on the table, it would take a brave Tory soul or a game-playing member of the opposition (plenty of those) to vote against the draft Withdrawal agreement and risk who knows what.
In any case, a lot of the contentious issues will be pushed into the Future Partnership talks after 29 March 2019. One thing I will predict, though, is this: those parts of any agreement that the Brexiteers and the Conservative grassroots don’t like – the irish backstop, for example – will come under sustained attack after December 2020, if not before, until such time as they are repudiated by an incoming Conservative government down the line.