Earlier this week, 71 MPs declared publicly that they wouldn’t vote for Theresa May’s Brexit plan. Add 32 probables and nine possibles, and you have over 100 Conservative MPs.
This article is addressed to them, plus others too who, as we did, originally welcomed her leadership with enthusiasm, but recognise that it isn’t working. And who have no confidence in her or her deal either, but kept have quiet through a sense of obligation or loyalty.
You know that the Prime Minister’s deal has failed. She got nothing yesterday from Brussels and Berlin on the backstop – and will get nothing meaningful from either, or from anyone else, if she wins today’s confidence ballot.
That leaves only two places for her to go.
First, to No Brexit, pivoting to Parliament’s natural pro-Remain majority during the New Year, and delaying Article 50 while perhaps conceding a second referendum – an outcome that some Cabinet members are now weighing. So if you want to stop No Brexit, today may be your last chance for a year.
Second, to No Deal – playing a game of chicken as she pits that pro-Remain majority’s fear of No Deal against the scarcely less substantial majority against hers. Do you really believe she would win that game, given her lost authority in the House? So if you want to stop No Deal, today may also be your last chance for twelve months.
(If you want No Brexit, by the way, wouldn’t it come better from a leader who hasn’t ruled it out – particularly in the view of the anti-politics public is concerned?
Similarly, if you want No Deal – and managed No Deal is our reluctant option of the last resort – wouldn’t it be better delivered by someone other than the leader who has yet again, by cancelling Cabinet today, junked her chance to get full preparations going?)
We concede that the Prime Minister’s series of retreats – over not calling an election; over the sequencing of negotiations; over basing her Brexit policy on “a comprehensive system of mutual recognition”; over migration control during transition; over not extending transition; over opposing new regulatory barriers in the Irish sea; over not seeking to amend this deal; over putting it to a meaningful vote this week; above all, over the backstop – have run down this Government’s credibility, just as the EU has run down the negotiating clock.
That makes it very tough for any potential successor. But the bottom line is that she has no chance of moving the EU on the backstop or anything else. A new leader might just do better and could scarcely do worse. If you want a harder Brexit, he or she might just go for a Canada-type deal. If you want a softer one, perhaps for Norway Plus. She is hostile to both.
In short, you must weight the certainty that she won’t do better against the possibility that a new leader just might.
For all the shortage of time, he or she would have a bit to play with. It is part of an emerging pattern that some of May’s claims earlier today on that point weren’t quite right. The Commons authorities have confirmed that the legal deadline for a deal is no longer 21st January, but 28th March. Holding a leadership election by the end of next month wouldn’t be mission impossible. Nor would a different deal by the end of March – under new leadership, at any rate.
Downing Street is trying to bounce you into a quick decision today – aided by Cabinet Ministers who protest loyalty in public while preparing their own campaign teams in private. But if nothing else moves you, remember that a win for the Prime Minister will confirm the loss of the DUP.
The effects of their alienation have been felt already, and will be felt more deeply as the weeks go by. A new leader could win them back. May risks them allowing Corbyn, if his team can get its timing right, to win a confidence vote. Isn’t that the most likely route to the election you dread (and with reason)?
She’s now hinting that she will stand down post-Brexit. That won’t help you if an election comes first.
So before you yield to the Prime Minister’s request for a last dance, remember this. The excitement may get you through this evening. But you’ll wake up tomorrow with a hell of a hangover. The grim reality will set in – that “nothing has changed”.