According to rumour, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, has 45 of the 48 letters required for a vote of confidence against Theresa May in his cupboard. No one knows the validity of this rumour, but no matter how many letters he has, I don’t believe that May will be unseated now until after 29th March 2019.
David Davis, the former Brexit Minister, resigned on Sunday after the Chequers meeting: Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Minister, resigned on Monday. Both cited Theresa May’s plan for Brexit as their reason for resigning. The only minister left of the three Brexiters appointed to the Foreign Office by May in 2016, is disgraced former Defence Minister Liam Fox, who is still drawing a salary as minister for International Trade (without actually accomplishing a single trade deal in his entire time in office). For about 24 hours at the beginning of this week, it looked as if Theresa May might be gone within days.
Briefly: at Chequers, Theresa May gathered her entire Cabinet together and made clear that either they supported her plan for soft Brexit or they resigned. On Monday, Theresa May addressed Tory backbenchers at the 1922 Committee, making clear that they either supported her plan for soft Brexit or they triggered a general election and had Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.
Had she taken this position before triggering Article 50, that could even have been called sensible.
A no-confidence vote by Tory MPs against Theresa May as Prime Minister would trigger a Tory leadership election, not a general election. But the current state of the Conservative Party and the Conservative-propped-up-by-DUP Government is shaky enough that I think Tory MPs realistically fear that ditching Theresa May and slotting in another leader as PM could lead to another general election.
Despite Boris Johnson, David Davies, and a solitary PPS in the Ministry of Transport resigning, and despite the number of hard-Brexiters meeting in their oddly-named European Research Group, Conservative MPs seem to be sticking with the plan formed back in 2016: put Theresa May in as Prime Minister and get behind her until after Brexit.
The 70 or 80 hard Brexiter Tory MPs in ERG may have the votes to trigger a vote of no-confidence in Theresa May, but they don’t have the votes to win it – for that they need 158.
If Theresa May can hang on til Friday 20th July, she will survive until after Brexit Day.
On that day, the House of Commons goes into summer recess. Aside from eight working days in the first half of September – followed by conference recess from 14th September to 9th October, the Commons doesn’t sit again til 9th October. (As I explore in more detail here, the last day a no-confidence vote could trigger a general election in 2018 is 10th October.)
Unless something very drastic happens at the Conservative Party conference (for, make no mistake, this is an internal war within the Tory party: none of us have any say in it), which is in Birmingham, 30th September to 3rd October, Conservative MPs will return to the Commons in October still glumly determined to support Theresa May and keep the Conservative Party in power. Given that at the last Tory Party conference Theresa May had a coughing fit and the letters stuck to the display behind her started falling off during her speech, it’s difficult to see what she could do to change their mind.
And having committed themselves to that course, I don’t believe they’ll change their minds during the few weeks in January in which there would be time to trigger a general election with a no-confidence vote before 29th March.
Which means, whatever else, that Theresa May will be Prime Minister when the clock ticks over at 11pm on 29th March and the UK leaves the EU.
Perhaps fortunately, Easter is late next year: the House of Commons customarily takes a two week recess over Easter, and last year started their spring break on 29th March. On Wednesday 3rd April 2019, Theresa May will face Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions.
I wonder what Corbyn will ask her: and what she’ll answer.