LET’S review where Theresa May and Number Ten are with their BRINO strategy, and let’s review what progress the Conservative Party are making with toppling her. How do these plans match up? Or don’t they?
Kim May, we know, is ignoring the EU elections and ploughing on regardless. As if to underline that, Conservative candidates have been told by their cheerful party chairman not to bother: ‘If you are not an MEP already you aren’t winning.’ A great way to win loyalty.
And Number Ten have a plan, as ever on the front foot. They’ve cockily told MPs they are to face another Brexit vote, but this time not on the WA as such. Forget those ‘meaningful’ votes of the past, this is the real deal. Ominously this time, for once, Mrs May means what she says. It’s a Withdrawal Agreement Bill that MPs will find themselves voting for, most likely during the week of June 3 – the week of President Trump’s visit and the D-Day commemorations. The legislation is to push through and effect an agreement that no one has agreed.
Where Mrs May will be that week – steering the passage of BRINO through the Commons or holding the Donald’s hand – is another matter. A tricky decision, or a cunning one, leaving Michael Gove maybe deputising for her in the Commons and winning members over with his words. How bad can that be for her or the Bill’s success?
To repeat, this new Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the legislation that will put into effect the UK’s divorce deal with the EU, which includes the financial settlement and the Irish backstop, and which has consistently been voted down and rejected. Some hubris there.
Also note that talks with Labour, to try to secure their backing for a deal ‘that both parties could support’, have not broken down. The only people who know how likely Mrs May is to capitulate to Labour’s terms are Mrs May and her coterie at Number Ten. Tuesday’s long Cabinet meeting and Olly Robbins’s trip to see Barnier early in the week suggest that the necessary softening-up in preparation for an announcement is taking place – and working.
Lost behind the headlines is the critical fact that Mrs May met Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday and they agreed to continue talks. Just hours later, Mrs May announced that she would ‘press ahead’ with a vote on the Bill.
Political commentators believe that the chances of her getting this Bill through are negligible. Several are therefore mooting her resignation should she lose the vote. It is hard to see how she could stay, some say. Words we have heard before.
Is this speculation once more premature? Tory MPs who fear that the Bill will be amended as it goes through Parliament surely have grounds to worry. Can anyone doubt that the combined forces of Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve, John Bercow and Yvette Cooper will not be eager and ready to help with a Bremainer amendment that would get it through the legislative hoops?
And then, how unpalatable would it be for leadership contenders such as Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson not to vote for it – thus losing their most likely chance of May’s departure? A devil’s choice for them if there ever was one.
And can they be so confident that once successful she will step down as she has promised? Isn’t this a woman who has broken too many promises too many times ever to be trusted? The weakness of the Tories who want to topple her continues – on the one hand their aversion to risk and the paralysis the weighing of risk leaves them in. Then there has always been their predilection for wishful thinking, even in face of successive disappointments.
Can they assume that should Mrs May lose the vote (in the absence of Labour’s help) it would mean the end of the parliamentary session, and give her no choice but to stand down? She and Number Ten have proved impervious to expectations about due constitutional process. I imagine they are already working on the next Queen’s Speech, promising endless victim audits and legislation.
That said, Mrs May, by any standards, is under severe pressure. The Telegraph report this morning headed ‘Theresa May to be told: Give us your leaving date today’ predicts a showdown, and that she will be forced from office within a month if she does not set out a timetable for her departure.
She’s to be told she’ll face a confidence vote from her MPs if she does not agree to quit before Parliament’s summer break, regardless of whether her Brexit deal has passed. Tough talk. But haven’t we heard all that before?
So will the first week in June prove to be Mrs May’s Waterloo, with every step a humiliation, as Camilla Tominey predicts?
We can but wait and see. Mrs May and Number Ten do not play by the rules. They have no shame. So we still count the days.
Today is Day 42 . . .