24 May 2018

Prime Minister conducts some delicate diplomacy with her own party

After a meeting with pro-Remain MPs threatening to rebel and defeat the government over Brexit, Mrs May met with pro-Brexit MPs also threatening to rebel and defeat the government over Brexit.

Mrs May has to calculate which side really means it and which side she is more in agreement with. She must then discover whether the EU will entertain the solution that guides her towards.

Pro-Remain MPs say they got little wind in the meeting of the direction of travel and Mrs May said there would be more information in a briefing paper on the government’s proposed backstop proposal probably in the week beginning June 4th when the Commons returns from a week long break.

For now though Mrs May is holding her cards close to her chest. “We did not get as much evidence [of a change of position] as we might have expected,” one MP said. But the MP said that didn’t mean there wasn’t still an expectation that Mrs May was moving in their direction.

Pro-Remain MPs are threatening to combine with opposition MPs to defeat the government on four or five amendments that were inserted into the Withdrawal Bill by the House of Lords. The government will write some of its own suggested replacement amendments in some cases. It may accept some of the Lords’ amendments – the Henry VIII clauses amendment is a front-line candidate for that.

The pro-Brexit ERG group of MPs sent a small delegation to listen to the PM a little later in the afternoon. Some in that grouping (though not necessarily the ones who walked down Downing Street today) say they are so angry at signs of the PM going soft on Brexit that they are ready to put in letters demanding a vote of no confidence in her as party leader. They know that others mutter they’d never dare because their best chances of getting Brexit may still rest with Mrs May staying in charge at no.10. So they rattle the cage and rage louder and louder¬†giving the Prime Minister a raucous stereo effect and a nerve-wracking few weeks.

And there’s the question of whether the EU will go along with the emerging government plan to convert the backstop idea aligning Northern Ireland with the EU rules to an approach for the whole UK. One senior EU official briefed today that if that was what the government in London was thinking “they can think again.” It risked, the official said, being a backdoor into the Single Market and was unacceptable. It was a briefing heavily peppered with the word “fantasy.”

Theresa May has cannon to the right, to the left and behind her as she enters the Bank Holiday recess.

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