May called the bluff of the ERG and won the battle not the war

24 Nov 2018

Brexit day is approaching, a ‘deal’ has almost been reached and Theresa May is fighting for her political career. Those who seek to rid Number 10 of May plot in the background whilst she fights off criticism from left, right and centre. And although she may have won the battle, she has certainly lost the war.


During the statement to the house on the Wednesday, Jacob Rees-Mogg offered up a hammer blow to the Prime Minister effectively asking whether she thought he should write and submit his letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the influential 1922 committee. He did so in a matter of hours.


As the weekend came and went, the threat to May’s leadership seemed more threatening than ever with Steve Baker writing in a WhatsApp group that the 48 letters that are needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in the leader of the Conservatives had been reached. However, this was viewed with dubious speculation by commentators because as more letters were confirmed to have been submitted there was no word on whether the leadership contest would be triggered by Sir Graham.


Last Sunday, May appeared on Ridge on Sunday following an incredibly difficult week which saw her half-baked agreement with the EU torn apart in the Commons by opposition MPs as well as her own. She faced a mounting assault on parts of the deal which is unsatisfactory on all sides of the house.


Now, only the May loyalists and remain-backing MPs stood up in support of her and the deal. On Ridge, May offered up a masterstroke of an ultimatum to her MPs: back me, back my deal, or risk Brexit being stalled or stopped. This has proven to be rather effective.


She had effectively offered those who are not ideological puritans within the Party but instead sit on the fence regarding both her leadership and the agreement, an option of carrying through this deal in the hopes of the grass being greener on the other side. Or, cutting off their noses to spite their faces and risking the potentiality of Britain remaining within the EU to the behest of millions of leave voters around the country.


Despite it being a risky move, which could have ended spectacularly badly for the PM, it worked. A poll released in The Times suggests that whilst last week May was deeply unpopular with a sizeable portion of those asked, this week has seen her polling numbers rise exponentially amongst the same groups.


This may be a morale boost for May and her supporters as seemingly time has been bought by the stumbling, bumbling ERG who so far have not been able to produce the fabled 48 letters that Baker rather publicly stated. Even Sir Graham himself on John Pienaar’s Radio 4 broadcast stated that some of those who had claimed they had put letters in had not done so.


So, it seems that the threat that was posed to Mrs May in the immediate aftermath of her withdrawal agreement being published petered away pretty quickly.


But in no way is Mrs May out of the woods yet. She is far from it. Despite her being safe from a vote of no confidence, for now, other threats to her and her government's stability are coming thick and fast. This is not in the form of Labour or her own backbench MPs, but in the form of those she seeks to keep the favour of to keep her in power: the DUP.


To say that May’s withdrawal agreement draft has cheesed off the DUP nine ways to Sunday would be an understatement of the severity of the situation. Nigel Dodds, leader of the DUP in Westminster, made his feelings more than apparent to Mrs May during her statement to the House, laying bare for all to see the fissures that had now opened between Belfast and Westminster.


For the past two consecutive nights of voting on the Government’s finance bill, the DUP have made it all but clear that if May does not change course on her Brexit deal and removes the risk of the nation of Northern Ireland becoming a de-facto EU member state following a failure of negotiations on trade, then the confidence and supply agreement that set the government back to the tune of one billion pounds following last year's farce of an election is all but over.


The consequences of the deal being severed at this stage of the negotiations with the EU would have detrimental and fatal effects on the government. May would be in control of a minority government, which would be ungovernable due to the civil war that would inevitably erupt between the warring parties.


Furthermore, although the threat to her leadership is all but gone, the threat to her agreement not getting through Parliament is mounting by the day, with Alex Wickham reporting that almost ninety MPs on her own benches will not support the deal when it comes to parliament in a few weeks’ time for MPs to vote on it.


So, whilst Mrs May has seen off the threat of the ERG and her leadership is secure for now, there is a whole different, more dangerous threat that not only will end in the removal of May as prime minister, but it carries with it the possibility of the Conservatives being left in a very precarious position which may have the natural conclusion of the Conservatives leaving government. This is of course hypothetical, but the threat that now faces the government is greater than any leadership contest.


The coming weeks and months will not only determine the fate of the government in Westminster, but it will also determine the long-term fate of the UK post-Brexit.



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