Theresa May won her vote of confidence 200-117 and is off to meet with the EU Commission, still Prime Minister – though having lost the confidence of nearly one-third of her MPs.
So, where are we now?
The deal the EU negotiated for Theresa May is the only deal they’ll accept. The EU have, jointly and severally, made that clear. Any talk of changes to the deal is uninformed rubbish. At this point in time, the House of Commons has three choices:
- To ratify May’s deal and leave the EU on 29th March 2019
- To refuse May’s deal and leave the EU catastrophically on 29th March 2019
- To revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU
For many MPs, the fact that they have no ability to move the EU to a better deal is too unpalatable to be comprehended.
The European Research Group (ERG), who want a no-deal Brexit, do not command the loyalty of even half the 117 Conservative MPs who voted for Theresa May to go on Wednesday night – the rest voted for May to go because they were angry with her for cancelling the Tuesday night debate so high-handedly and with so little notice, and because they believed her claim on Monday afternoon that there was a better deal to be had, one that resolved their issues with the backstop – they just didn’t believe Theresa May could get that better deal for them.
The European Research Group, though they had been champing at the bit to have May gone since July, apparently blame their losing the vote on Graham Brady for not allowing them to hold the confidence vote on Monday 17th December, giving them more time to campaign for getting May out. (That this would have put May in an extremely awkward position today, bound to attend the European Commission meeting in Brussels but not knowing if she would still be Prime Minister next Tuesday, is obviously not something they were concerned about.)
Jacob Rees-Mogg, ERG-spokesman and pal of Nigel Farage, said afterwards the only reason 200 MPs voted for her was that most of them were on the government payroll. A vote of confidence in the party leader is a secret ballot, so Rees-Mogg can’t know that for sure, but it is evident far more MPs voted to be rid of her than are part of his European Research Group.
Failed Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning:
“Yesterday’s vote said ‘engage’, ‘listen’,” he said.
“A compromise is there but the backstop has to be resolved,” he said. The backstop can be replaced by an open borders policy, he claimed.
The backstop can only be replaced by an open borders policy if the House of Commons revokes Article 50 and remains in the EU. Iain Duncan Smith, who finally quit as DWP Minister in order to campaign for Leave, has apparently never understood that if the UK leaves the EU, special arrangements need to be made to keep the transparent border required by the Good Friday Agreement. This ignorance by IDS doesn’t surprise me.
If the UK exits the EU on May’s deal: Yes, EU-27 would prefer for the backstop not to continue indefinitely, because it is a weird situation for the EU to be in: to have part of a third country effectively inside the EU, while the rest of that third country is outside the EU: the hard border between EU and third countries is therefore partly inside the third country. But,the EU takes preservation of the Good Friday Agreement very seriously – the Republic of Ireland, one of the EU-27, has the Agreement written into its constitution – so there is no direct provision for the backstop ever coming to an end and no way for the third country to unilaterally end it.
When Theresa May, then Home Secretary, stood for election as leader of the Conservatives in June 2016, she was, in all honesty, the least-bad option of the other alternatives standing.
A reminder, these alternatives were: failed Mayor of London Boris Johnson, disgraced former Defence Minister Dr Liam Fox, former Murdoch journalist and lavish MP expenses-cheat Michael Gove, creative expenses-cheat Stephen Crabb.
And also Andrea Leadsom, who despite a rather mediocre career in banking, including a spell as a director for her Guernsey-based brother-in-law Peter de Putron’s hedge fund, felt she knew better than Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, what effect a hard Brexit would have on the UK economy. Given the choice was between that crowd of cheats and losers and fools, and Theresa May, who had at least been Home Secretary for six years, it was unsurprising she was the last Tory MP left standing.
Nor is it altogether surprising that Theresa May’s still standing today, having won the no-confidence vote by a narrow but solid margin: 200 to 117.
That included two Conservative MPs who had been suspended from voting as members of the Tory party over well-evidenced allegations of sexual misconduct, but were allowed back in by the Tory Whips office specifically for the vote of confidence.
Having won, Theresa May repeated her usual set of phrases about “delivering Brexit for the British people”. She made no reference to the 117 Tory MPs who wanted her gone.
Andrea Leadsom, leader of the house, announced the agenda for next week in Parliament: resuming the Brexit debate wasn’t on the agenda, so Theresa May definitely plans to put it off til January. (From what she said on Monday, she thinks her deadline for a Brexit debate is 21st January 2019.) Parliament is in recess from close of business 20th December til 7th January.
Putting off the last day of the Brexit debate saved Theresa May seeing her deal defeated in the House of Commons on Tuesday 11th December. Conservative MPs who were promised knighthoods in the New Year’s Honours List if they voted for May’s deal, are now wondering if they’ll still receive the bribe now the opportunity to vote has been put off til after the New Year. Those promised peerages aren’t subject to the same date-limitation.
Senior Tory to me: “with the vote postponed, are the promises to my colleagues of peerages and knighthoods still good”. They should have read the small print
— Robert Peston (@Peston) December 11, 2018
But even with all of the Tory MPs that Theresa May can muster – and we now know that’s probably around two hundred – she still can’t get her deal past a House of Commons vote, and she shouldn’t.
The DUP will not vote for May’s deal because the backstop separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The ERG Tory MPs will not vote for May’s deal because they want a no-deal Brexit.
Labour will not vote for May’s deal because – although it is the only deal that the EU would have let any UK government have – it manifestly doesn’t pass the “six tests” which Keir Starmer claimed a Brexit deal would have to have before Labour would support it. (No Brexit deal negotiated with the EU could pass those six tests, but as Labour aren’t in government, that’s by the by.) Had May approached Labour MPs in overwhelmingly-Leave constituencies to negotiate a settlement, she might have got their votes for the exit deal, but she didn’t: too busy courting the hard Brexiters in her own party.
MPs from the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party, won’t vote for May’s deal because they all represent Remain parties.
Theresa May just doesn’t have the votes for her deal, and that won’t change between now and 21st January, no matter how many peerages and knighthoods she promises.
The thing is, the best way to understand Theresa May’s predicament is to imagine that 52 percent of Britain had voted that the government should build a submarine out of cheese.
— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) December 10, 2018
Professor Jim Gallagher (visiting professor at the University of Glasgow/research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford) told the Scottish Affairs Committee in November that Brexit was stretching an already stretched system beyond breaking point.
The UK’s civil service, already racked by austerity, have been given an impossible job and have been trying to do it to the best of their ability. Theresa May’s deal would mean they had to go on trying to do that impossible job indefinitely. Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West, points out:
If we take the prime minister’s blindfold Brexit we are at risk of ‘protracted and repeated rounds of negotiations’. Brexit could go on for ever, diverting political energy from the crises we’re facing.
There are only three options: May’s deal, no deal catastrophe, and no Brexit.
The Labour Party claims there is a fourth option – have a General Election and extend Article 50 and have Labour negotiate a better deal – but even if we believed this were possible (Labour have been remarkably and consistently unspecific on how they would negotiate a better deal) the last day on which the House of Commons can start the process that allows a General Election under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, is 30th January 2019. And the DUP have made clear they’ll vote with the Conservatives to prevent a general election: just because 117 Tory MPs don’t want Theresa May, doesn’t mean they’d prefer Jeremy Corbyn.
Yes, if the UK were having a general election, EU-27 might well agree to an extension for Brexit Day – but they won’t extend it beyond Thursday 23rd May 2019, because that’s the day on which – if the UK is still a member of the EU – we have to hold elections for our MEPs.
So: in January 2019, the House of Commons will vote on May’s deal, and Theresa May will lose that vote.
That will leave two options:
- To leave the EU catastrophically on 29th March 2019
- To revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU
The only group of MPs in the House of Commons that wants a no-deal catastrophe Brexit, is the European Research Group of Tory MPs who see this as an opportunity to make millions. Theresa May has been promising “Better no deal than a bad deal” for two years to keep them happy.
But in the past couple of months, she’s changed her catchphrase, promising instead “My deal, or no Brexit”.
And now, til 13th December 2019, the ERG Tories have no power over Theresa May. They can’t challenge her for a year after she won the confidence vote. They don’t have the votes for no-deal Brexit in their own party – and they certainly won’t find them anywhere else.
Theresa May is ERG 0 til next year.
She can revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit.
(Of course, she’s repeatedly promised not to do that, but as everyone knows, Theresa May’s promises are worthless.)