12 Dec 2018

Trading, bartering, arguing, cajoling’ in Parliament as May faces confidence vote

Parliament is a frenzied place today. There is trading, bartering, arguing, cajoling everywhere. There are insults flying, language that will be hard to forget. All sorts of promises are being made and not all of them will be remotely bankable. And even some supporters of the Prime Minister are saying “she might buy herself a few weeks” if she wins the vote of no confidence tonight.

Some MPs told the Chief Whip they wanted a clear indication that the PM intends to go soon after Brexit . Some even say she might deliver words to that effect when she speaks to Tory MPs at 5pm. Her spokesman has already indicated: “She does not believe that this vote, today is about who leads the Conservative party into the next election – it is about whether it is sensible to change the leader at this point in the Brexit process”.

One prominent Brexiteer is touting the idea that as few as 80 or so opponents for Theresa May proves the ERG-inspired uprising has secured 50% + 1 of those MPs not tied to the PM by any job in the government. That’s sounds suspiciously like expectation management and that the ERG is hoping to exceed that number and hoping that will somehow weaken her grip on power.

One recently resigned minister (I think I have comfortably protected my source with that descriptor) said they thought a victory by 1 MP would suffice for Mrs May because all the old concepts of needing enough support to have credibility and authority didn’t apply: “It’s not like she’s got any authority anyway,” the MP said.

‘Back Theresa May and you risk an early general election’ is one of the lines of argument being deployed by Brexiteer critics of the PM. The logic runs that the PM will, even if she wins tonight, face a blistering defeat on her Brexit deal when she eventually brings it to the Commons and that will be followed by a vote of no confidence which she will lose. One pro-Brexit Tory MP said that she’d lose that vote because she’d lost the DUP’s support. But the DUP position appears to be that they won’t oppose the government in the confidence vote unless the government has secured support for Theresa May’s deal. Another Tory MP, a different recently resigned minister, said he thought there was a 7-strong “suicide squad” in the ERG of hardliners ready to vote with the opposition in a Commons no confidence vote to bring down the government as a last resort measure if Theresa May was pressing ahead with her deal.

Watching all this with a wary eye are Labour MPs who had their own Brexit discussion at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party last night. Some MPs criticised the Second Referendum supporters as out of touch. The referendum backers hit back.

The expectation is still that the Prime Minister will survive tonight’s confidence motion with the backing of MPs who fully intend to oppose her deal. So you might ask to what purpose she survives?

Sam Gymiah, a recently resigned minister speaking on the record, told me he thought that the Prime Minister would have to pivot towards a solution which attracts cross-party support. He suggested the consequences of tonight’s vote would come as a nasty surprise to those who promoted it.

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