14 Feb 2019

Brexit vote: Party icebergs creak

Theresa May has managed to achieve an extraordinary spread of distrust in her own party. Sir Oliver Letwin told the Commons today that he was now officially “terrified” that the PM was prepared to drive the U.K. off what he sees as the “no deal” cliff. The ERG caucus still feels it can’t trust Theresa May to do just that (though it would, of course, phrase the end point differently).

There were divisions within the ERG on display today. Some didn’t want to make a fuss about a motion accepting what the Commons had said in its votes last week. In the end they held together pretty much though whips will say 60 odd abstentions now is not close to the 100 plus support levels claimed. On the other hand, this motion was not a milestone in the process. Jacob Rees-Mogg called it “an irrelevance.” ERG stalwarts will say it was a major whipping achievement for the caucus on territory that was hard to fit on a placard.

Tensions in both parties were in technicolour display today. Dominic Grieve said his loyalty to his party was close to breaking point. In normal parlance that usually means: I’d consider voting against the party in a vote of no confidence. Chris Leslie, on the Labour benches, said something similar about how party politics as currently formed was failing the nation and looking rotten.

Some working behind the scenes on a new party say it is essential that any Labour splitters take an “independent” label to start with. They believe a new party to be viable must have a balance or ex-Tory and ex-Labour figures (as well as a healthy injection of new figures fresh to politics).

They also, for understandable reasons, dread an early general election before their ducks are remotely in a row. Autumn would be possible though hugely challenging for a new party to be tested. May or June would be too challenging. We may see the first chicks breaking out of eggshells very soon.

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