Political Briefing from Newgate’s public affairs team
Theresa May scrapes home: So, Theresa May has survived a vote of no confidence in last night’s ballot of Conservative MPs, by 200 votes to 117. This means that in the short term at least, May will remain as Prime Minister and under Conservative Party rules, she cannot now be challenged by her own MPs for another 12 months. While this may be relief to her and her supporters, this vote does little to address the considerable uncertainty over Brexit and this country’s future. And with a margin of only 83, it was far less than Number 10 had hoped for – and not enough to silence her critics.
Her deal still looks dead: The Prime Minister still looks highly unlikely to win majority support in the House of Commons for her deal. In fact, given that only 200 MPs have expressed confidence in her as Prime Minister, it’s unlikely that the vote on her deal in Parliament will attract much more support than that. This would represent a devastating defeat in the Commons and underlines why the Prime Minister delayed the meaningful vote scheduled for 11th May is now hoping to win additional concessions from EU leaders that will prove enough to convince sceptical MPs. This is of course, unlikely. The Prime Minister will also be hoping that running down the clock and delaying the meaningful vote till nearer the exit date will scare wavering MPs into voting for the deal for fear of something worse. This is a high-risk strategy. As things stand, the UK will leave the EU at 11pm on 29th March 2019 – with or without a deal. The chances of an unintended no-deal now look higher than ever.
Alternative arrangements for Brexit not clear: Of course, some MPs favour a no deal scenario, but the majority do not. It remains unclear, however, how alternative arrangements – including a soft Brexit ‘Norway’ option, ‘Canada +’. the revocation of Article 50 and/or a Second Referendum – can be achieved at this stage, even if there is a Parliamentary majority for them. The Prime Minister has been clear that she would not consider such alternatives – and despite recent events in the House of Commons, no parliamentary motion would have binding legal force on the Government. It’s at this point, the Cabinet could play a crucial role in shaping the Government’s approach. There will be talk of extending Article 50 and allowing Parliament to consider other options. This would, however, require a degree of flexibility that the Prime Minister has not been noted for to date.
Government losing stability and authority: This current situation does, however, depend on the ongoing stability of the Government. Despite her victory, the Prime Minister still leads a minority government with a broken-down relationship with its confidence-and-supply partner, the DUP. Yesterday’s vote has, if anything, made things more precarious – by exposing and exacerbating deep divisions in the Conservative Party. Some of the language used by Conservative MPs against their own colleagues has been vitriolic and with 117 of her own MPs expressing no confidence in her, it will make governing extremely hard and passing any legislation (Brexit-related or otherwise) extremely challenging. There will still be calls for the Prime Minister to go for the sake of the Party.
A no confidence motion in the Government? The major and immediate threat to the Prime Minister now is of a Parliamentary no-confidence motion in the Government. There has been talk of the DUP backing a no-confidence motion, given their profound unhappiness with the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ (Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader at Westminster, was clear last night that the “backstop must go”). There will also be MPs on her own benches determined to get rid of her – and unable to wait for another 12 months for a leadership challenge, may push the nuclear button and support a no confidence motion in their own government. This would allow another government to be formed with a different Prime Minister who can command the authority of the House of Commons. In reality, it could well trigger another general election – and opens the possibility of Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn in the near future.