The attempted vote of no confidence in Britain yesterday went Theresa May’s way, pretty much as I predicted. The two questions coming out of that rather dramatic event would appear to be how she managed it and what happens next.
On the first count, there are a number of possible explanations ranging from the humorous to the grim. While virtually nobody likes the deal that May has arranged with the European Union, it’s clear that a solid majority of her Conservative Party MPs found the idea of replacing her distasteful. As I pointed out yesterday, many of the backbenchers in her party likely feared that the next person to take up residence at 10 Downing Street might be even worse. (Boris Johnson had even been suggested.) Some might have even feared that they might be tasked with the job.
That’s a nasty reality check, but the truth is that nobody with any amount of sanity probably wants to be stuck with handling Brexit at this point. There’s simply no good option out there that will make a majority of the people happy. If Brexit is to proceed (and for now it looks as though it will), they’ll either be stuck with May’s deal (which nobody seems to like) or no deal at all, which many observers believe is worse. So, in short, Theresa May is probably still the Prime Minister because they likely couldn’t force anyone else into taking the job at gunpoint.
But was the Prime Minister really the “winner” in all of this? The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg argues that the Conservative Party is currently in a state of civil war and May’s position is actually weakened as a result.
One cabinet minister last night told me the whole challenge to her had been “futile”, suggesting it hadn’t really changed much. But it really has.
Mrs. May has a temporary shield from another direct call for her departure from her own MPs. Angry Brexiteers can’t try to move her out for another year in the same way.
That on its own is a sigh of relief certainly for her supporters, who were claiming a “good result” last night. But that does not remotely protect her from the brutal reality that she, right now, has no workable Brexit policy that can make it through the Commons.
Those who were pushing to force her out on Wednesday simply won’t give up. Just watch their resistance as, and when, a modified compromise with the EU actually makes it to a Commons vote.
Kuenssberg’s analysis is well worth a read and it rings true, much along the lines of what I was saying prior to the vote. This story is far from over, but neither May’s supporters nor her detractors have a lot of good options at this point. So where do they go now?
Current rules state that having failed in their effort to oust her, the 1922 Committee can’t try another no-confidence vote for a year. That’s well after Brexit should be over (one way or the other) so a replacement Tory PM isn’t going to happen in that fashion. And with May in office, unless she entirely reverses course, there will be no second referendum on Brexit. As part of her agreement with her party, she’s already agreed to step down prior to the next general election, so they have no leverage over her by way of threatening to remove her.
The other possible route is what BBC analysts are already calling “the nuclear option.” (Sound familiar?) That would require a significant number of the Tories to join forces with Labour and call for an open vote of no confidence among the entire House of Commons. But not all of the Labour MPs are actually Remainers and the Tories would risk sacrificing their majority. It would be a drastic move and one that few people seem to think will happen.
The most likely scenarios now are in stark contrast. Theresa May could decide to pitch a “softer compromise” that might attract some Labour MPs to her side and bolster her numbers, but the serious Brexiteers will hate it. The other option is to keep crashing forward with the deal she has and inevitably lose a vote on it in the full House of Commons. That means a No Deal Brexit is coming in the spring unless some sort of nuclear option is invoked.
Yet again the old saying applies. The Brits have lived to see interesting times.