Political reality catches up with May but will victory last for new leader?

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Political reality catches up with May but will victory last for new leader?

For months Theresa May has defied political precedent. She has survived two confidence votes; three parliamentary defeats on her Brexit deal and more than three dozen resignations from her government.

Any one of these should be career-ending, but this prime minister has marched on – until now.

Political reality caught up with Mrs May on Thursday, as she finally bowed to the inevitable and told her backbenchers she would set out the timetable for her departure in early June.

It was left to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 backbench committee, to deliver the news, after a face-saving compromise was hammered out between the prime minister and her party in a “frank” 90-minute meeting.

“[The prime minister] is focused on securing the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and that will take place in the second week of June. Following that second reading, she and I will meet to discuss a timetable for an election of a new leader of the Conservative Party.”

After months of fighting her internal critics, the spectre of the disastrous local elections – which saw over 1,300 Conservative councillors lose their seats – coupled with the imminent European elections wipeout, had done for Mrs May.

But the prime minister did at least manage to fend off demands for her to name a date at the meeting with the 18-strong 1922 committee, telling her MPs she would not make a statement on her future without one last attempt to get her Brexit deal across the line.

“What really drives her is that she wants to give her Withdrawal Agreement Bill one more chance of getting through and she doesn’t want to do anything that might prejudice people to vote against the bill,” one source familiar with the discussions told me.



Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street



May to reveal departure date after final Brexit vote

The prime minister perhaps hopes that her deal has a better chance of passing if she doesn’t explicitly tie defeat to her departure. It’s a moot point – her party know she is going whichever way they now vote.

The date not quite there yet, but what was settled in those three hours of meetings on Thursday was the manner in which she goes.

There was a split on the executive of the 1922 between those who would force her out immediately – and change the confidence vote rules if necessary – and those who would have her leave in a more dignified way. The latter won out, MPs wanting to avoid the ugly way in which Britain’s other female prime minister was ousted from office.

So the party has allowed the prime minister one last attempt to leave office with her Brexit pledge delivered and her legacy guaranteed. Very few – bar perhaps her closest supporters – believe she will prevail.

She now has just weeks left as Conservative party leader and prime minister. It will be up to Sir Graham to determine how many weeks she has. In June the party will have to decide upon an election timetable. Under party rules, the MPs will first run a series of hustings to whittle the field down to two finalists. It will then be up to party members to make their choice.

Some Brexiteers want a short, sharp race, with a new leader installed before recess in July. But the smart money is on a longer contest, whereby the parliamentary party select their final two before recess, with a national tour of party activists pencilled in for August. Party members were denied the chance to vote last time around after the parliamentary party anointed Mrs May and this time activists are demanding a say: A new leader then by party conference in late September.

But changing the leader still doesn’t solve the Brexit riddle. The Conservative party will still be split on what to do about Brexit. Parliament will still be split about what to do on Brexit and the country will remain divided too.

The UK has until Halloween to solve the conundrum. Any attempt by a Brexiteer in No 10 to take the UK out with a no-deal would undoubtedly provoke a constitutional crisis and could even prompt parliament to bring that government down. So whoever prevails in this race, could find their victory short-lived.

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