"I can't find anyone who supports Theresa May's plan." Philip Davies on the Chequers agreement and May's leadership

12 Aug 2018

 

Philip Davies has a quiet summer ahead. “I’m planning on doing a combination of working hard in the constituency and relaxing.”

 

After a busy end to the parliamentary term, recess will offer the Shipley MP an innocuous period of peace – a break from his fretting over the Conservative’s troubles. In late July, he wrote to his constituents after submitting a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

 

“Politics is all about trust and once it is lost it is impossible to win back. Many people have told me that as a result of this they have lost trust in the PM to properly and fully deliver the referendum result.

 

“It is with much sadness that I have to say that I have also lost trust in her to deliver the referendum result.

 

“Therefore I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I have no alternative but to send a letter to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee asking him for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.”

 

Mr Davies appears forthright on the telephone. When bluntly asked whether he is involved in a larger move against the Government, he replied, “I haven’t got a grand plan.” I recast the question; how many MPs are of a similar mind to him? “I genuinely don’t know.”

 

“I think it was Willy Whitelaw who once said, ‘the thing about bridges is that you should only cross them when you get to them.”

 

For the rebellious Tory – who has voted against his party over 250 times – it was the Chequers agreement which encouraged his letter to the 1922 Committee. He argues it is full of vague promises and unknowns. “We don’t know for example how freedom of movement is going to be determined.

 

“We talk about paying over money to the EU, we don’t know how much. We might end ‘vast’ amounts of money and just give ‘large’ amounts of money instead, which would obviously be unacceptable.

 

"The only certainty, and his foremost concern, is a common rulebook for goods, which would tether the UK to the bloc’s regulations. “It’s an EU rulebook which we are proposing to carry on in perpetuity, and to implement any changes the EU makes to it.

 

However, if there were regulatory divergence, how could goods travelling between UK and the Republic of Ireland be checked without border infrastructure? “Technology is the solution to these things.”

 

“I’d be quite happy to say we’ll trust the stuff coming from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland. It’s not a problem for us, it’s a problem for the EU.”

 

We move onto the Tory leadership, where Mr Davies is customarily sober about how the PM could recover her premiership. “There is one thing that can rescue the Prime Minister. There is one thing and one thing alone.”

 

“And that is – it may well happen – and that is if the EU overplay their hand.

 

“It’s quite possible that the Prime Minister could survive if she were then to say at that point […] ‘I’ve got to regretfully come to the conclusion that there isn’t a deal to be done, and we’re going to have to walk away from the negotiations and we’ll start preparing properly for the fact that we’re going to leave without a deal.’”

 

There is, however, a caveat – Mrs May must still go before the next election. “I suspect you’d be struggling to find above a dozen Conservative MPs who would want to fight the next election with Theresa May as leader.”

 

Mr Davies blames the Tories' tumult entirely on the PM, and is restrained in his reproval of the Cabinet. “In politics everything comes from the leadership really.

 

“I think she’s been pretty careful about who she’s put into Government that’s going to be people who aren’t going to outshine her.”

 

So, if Mrs May is displaced, what will change?

 

“I accept that she’s slightly hamstrung by having no majority in Parliament.”

 

“The parliamentary arithmetic wouldn’t change but the narrative would. I can’t find anyone who supports Theresa May’s plan.”

 

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