Theresa May is facing the fight of her life to get her career-defining Brexit Deal through her Tory colleagues and then Parliament…
Yesterday the resignations started early. First it was Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara, a known ultra-loyalist. Then it was Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, affable, well-liked and despite being a long-standing Eurosceptic, a team-player on delivering Brexit, but he’d had enough. Following that, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey (suspiciously shortly after Raab), known to be a fiery and independent voice when she digs her heels in; her resignation letter was less gracious that Raab’s. And lastly, the relatively little known Suella Braverman, a junior minister in the Brexit Department.
These were body blows to Mrs May, following a deliberately sanguine announcement on Wednesday evening (after the excruciatingly long Cabinet meeting) that her Brexit Deal had received “the approval of Cabinet”. Massive speculation was rife whether other key Brexiteers in Cabinet such as Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt would also throw the towel in. At the time of writing this none have, and Mr Gove has stated he’s staying as Environment Secretary having turned down the unenviable offer of becoming Brexit Secretary. Given his credentials, who can blame him? Especially given he’s reported to have insisted he be in charge of further negotiations. Poignant criticism of the role is that it is Brexit Secretary in name only, with the PM and her advisers really calling the shorts. Even so, the PM can enjoy this temporary sigh of relief, especially with Dr Fox urging his colleagues to back May’s deal this morning. A future Brexit Secretary there, perhaps?
After Raab, all eyes were on Mordaunt. And it seems a little surprising she hasn’t yet showed her hand – although there are reports she has attempted to get cabinet collective responsibility suspended on the deal. Her Brexit credentials are rock solid and her face was like thunder when she walked into Downing Street for the Cabinet Meeting. The rumour mill suggests Mordaunt and Leadsom have been persuaded to stay, for now. And, in the case of the latter, only for as long as the PM might consider changing course. This seems a little optimistic given Mrs May made a firm stab at defending her harassed leadership last night, extolling in her statement that she was going see the whole thing through.
The parliamentary arithmetic points out that this is very optimistic with the DUP left fuming, Labour officially set to oppose the deal, and with the largely sidelined Liberal Democrats dedicated to staying in the EU whatever happens. The PM hasn’t got the numbers.
This morning she has out fighting on LBC Radio, with a rigorous defence of her strategy. Even her detractors concede this is impressive when taken alongside her statement last night. And the May uber-loyalists like Communities Secretary James Brokenshire have been doing the same. But the PM in reality isn’t promoting her Brexit Deal to Parliament. She’s been trying to sell it to the Conservative Party. As ever, the Tories are on the brink of civil war over its perennial angst concerning the European Union. History repeats itself, after all.
The media darling that is the Hon. Jacob Rees-Mogg has been on epic manoeuvres galvanizing support, in a typical erudite and polite manner, for letters to the 1922 Committee to dethrone Mrs May via a no confidence vote. The 48 letters required for this are yet to materialise, but texts, WhatsApp messages, calls, emails and conspiratorial chats over coffee (or stronger substances) are taking place in a flurry. The 1922 Chairman, Sir Graham Brady, looked stoic when Rees-Mogg threatened his letter in the Commons Chamber yesterday, and we know Sir Graham has been to Downing Street (via the back door) to speak to the PM.
So, where are we?
In truth, no one really knows. For the time being this is about Theresa May clinging to a life raft, thus remaining in her job. With 58 Tory MPs declaring they won’t vote for her deal, a lifeline looks diminishing in prospect and her deal looks like it could well be dead in the water.