May has won the battle - but will not win the war

18 Dec 2018

Theresa May has survived a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party. 200 Tory MPs voted in support of Mrs May continuing as Prime Minister, with 117 MPs voting against her.


Prior to the vote, the Prime Minister pleaded with MPs to support her and even went so far as to say she would not be leading the party into the next general election. This may have been enough to convince some Conservative MPs, who were on the fence, to support her in seeing Brexit through. But despite this small victory, she is more damaged and vulnerable than ever. She may have won the battle, but will inevitably lose the war. 


The elephant in the room for Mrs May is still present in the much criticised Withdrawal Agreement. The PM went on a whistle-stop tour of Europe on Tuesday, seeking concessions and reassurances over the questionable Irish backstop. Despite this, the European Union remain insistent that negotiations are over, and this is the best and only deal on the table. President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker made clear that whilst there was the opportunity for “further clarifications” there was “no room for renegotiation”. Efforts to secure changes continued on Thursday and Friday, when the Prime Minister attended the European Council in Brussels. Despite her best efforts, the EU were unwilling to budge and any concessions made appear to be mere cosmetic work. Subsequently, the fundamental issue of parliamentary arithmetic remains unchanged. In its current state, the deal will not pass. To quote Theresa May, “nothing has changed.” 


Even if, by some miracle, every Conservative Party MP decides to rally around the Prime Minister and pledges to deliver on her deal, it is unlikely to get through in its current format. The rather small yet deeply problematic issue of the DUP’s ten Westminster MPs, who have categorically said they cannot support a deal that includes the Irish backstop, could force the collapse of the government. With Theresa May relying on the DUP to prop up the Conservatives, any withdrawal of the confidence and supply agreement opens the door for Jeremy Corbyn to trigger a motion of no confidence in the government. While the Prime Minister may still be in office, she has essentially lost power. Commanding the support of just two thirds of her parliamentary party, Mrs May is seemingly on borrowed time.


Furthermore, many of May’s opponents within the Conservative Party are still demanding that she stand aside. Avid Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg was quick to declare the result against the Prime Minister a “very bad result” for her and that “under all constitutional norms she should go see the Queen and resign”. This has certainly proven to be the case in a number of previous Tory votes of confidence. Most notably, Margaret Thatcher resigned despite winning a confidence vote in 1990; a number of Tory MPs have already suggested Mrs May should do the same, sacrificing her controlling the party.


Despite this, one thing that has become apparent during the premiership of Theresa May is that she is resilient. Since almost the beginning of her tenure we’ve been told on an almost weekly basis that she will not survive, that her days are numbered. Yet, here she stands. Whether her opponents like it or not, she is still Prime Minister and seems more determined than ever to deliver upon her vision of Brexit. What happens next is anyone’s guess. It does seem increasingly unlikely that once Brexit has concluded, Mrs May will remain leader. However, there seems no other option on the table and as is the current political climate, nobody knows what will happen next. 

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