Some hold Theresa May entirely to blame for the Government’s current condition – and Brexit’s. They argue variously that she has never believed in it, or else given way to Remainers, or to else to Brexiteers, or else been “adamant for drift”, or else been run by Olly Robbins, or else simply cocked everything up, especially since calling the 2017 election. Others claim that it is unjust to make her carry the can, amidst a divided Party, Commons, Parliament and Country. Our own take is somewhere between the two.
Whichever view Conservative MPs take, they should all agree on one point – namely, that there is no sign of May wanting to leave Downing Street. Prime Ministers almost never go willingly. The only exception we can think of recently is Harold Wilson – and he was ill, so shouldn’t really count. No, May looks dug in for the moment, unless there is a long extension.
Perhaps she will surprise us all. Maybe she will emerge from Number Ten, for no apparent reason, to announce publicly that she is willing to resign. But we doubt it. It is more likely that, if the Prime Minister’s back is up against the wall, as it was during December’s leadership challenge, hints will be dropped and briefings given – but no pledge offered of an immediate departure.
Nor is there a means of forcing her out quickly. There can be no ballot until next autumn. The 1922 Committee won’t move quickly. Nor will the riven, quarrelling Cabinet. Its Soft Brexiteers want to prop her up, for fear of Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab succeeding her – and of a new leader firing Philip Hammond. The harder ones have lost their mojo.
Other potential successors, such as if Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid, will not want to spearhead a putsch, or try to – partly on the principle that he who wields the dagger never wears the etc. (“After you, Saj.” No, after you, Jeremy.) So the suggestion that the Prime Minister might be prepared to stand down to get her deal through falls at the first hurdle – namely, that there’s no sign of her playing ball.
Tory MPs will be hunkering down for Meaningful Vote Three this weekend. It will bring both principle and pragmatism into play, and the calculations they must make are not easy. We will say more about the choice later this week. But as they ponder the future, they can surely banish one scenario from their minds – namely, May quitting, during the next few days, in order to let her deal pass. That might suit the leadership aspirations of some potential successors. But wishful thinking and stubborn reality don’t mix, at least in this case.