“This has been a testing time for our country and our party. We’re nearly there. We’re almost ready to start a new chapter and build that brighter future.
But before we can do that, we have to finish the job in hand. As I say, I don’t tour the bars and engage in the gossip – but I do make time to speak to colleagues, and I have a great team in the Whips’ Office. I also have two excellent PPSs.
And I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.
I know some people are worried that if you vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t – I hear what you are saying. But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit.
I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party. I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit.”
So there we have it. With the above words, the Prime Minister told this afternoon’s meeting of the 1922 Committee that if her deal is approved, she will not stay for the next phase of Brexit, ie for the future relationship negotiations.
Her promise doesn’t contain a firm date, but it’s a distinct advance on her previously vague assurances not to lead the Conservative Party into a 2022 general election, while failing to rule out fighting an election in any other year. After passing a deal, that second phase of Brexit negotiations would have to start fairly soon, though, so it’s not open-ended.
Crucially, of course, it’s a pledge conditional on winning a new ‘Meaningful Vote’ on her deal. All of her time in office, all her work in politics, has come to this: promising to resign as the last lever available to her to try to secure her plan.
It’s a momentous decision, even if it isn’t a surprising one. We know that plenty of MPs had made clear her departure was a required condition for backing the deal, and it’s reported that at least a couple immediately responded to her pledge by agreeing to lend their support in return.
Two things still aren’t clear. First, if John Bercow will even allow another vote on the deal – given that he is growing ever more addicted to flagrantly conflicting decisions on when he honours or disregards the rules of the Commons.
And second, if he doesn’t – or if the deal is defeated again – what are May’s intentions with regard to the leadership then? Her resignation has become a carrot with which to coax her MPs, but could staying on really now be a viable stick with which to threaten them? It’s increasingly hard to imagine.