- Theresa May’s future as prime minister is looking incredibly precarious.
- Conservative MPs are threatening to bring her down as her Brexit deal gathers little support in parliament.
- The prime minister could face a leadership challenge within days.
- May is promising to fight on but her chances of surviving to push through Brexit look slim.
LONDON – When Theresa May lost her majority at last year’s general election, most people predicted that her days as prime minister would be numbered.
She has outlived those predictions and continues to outlive them now, despite the resignation of almost two dozen members of her government, including her foreign secretary and not one but two Brexit secretaries.
But while reports of May’s imminent demise have long been greatly exaggerated, something feels very different this time.
For the first time it has become all but impossible to see a credible route out of the current crisis facing the prime minister. Here’s why.
May’s Brexit deal is dead
The events of the last 24 hours have made it clear that May simply doesn’t have the numbers to get her Brexit deal through parliament. The chances of getting through any deal, when she only has a minority government and her own party is so bitterly divided on Brexit, were always going to be slim. What once looked like a Herculean but at least possible task now looks impossible.
The resignation of so many ministers and the near-universal opposition to her deal expressed by MPs from all sides in Parliament today means the deal is, as the Conservative MP Mark Francois told her in the Commons today, now “dead on arrival.”
She has lost the confidence of her party
It’s difficult to overstate the opposition to May in the Conservative party. There is no clear successor to May and most Tory MPs are not vehemently opposed to her leadership. If there were a vote of no confidence in her leadership, Downing Street also believes she would win it.
However, such assumptions cannot be relied upon. While the average Conservative MP may not be eager for a new leader right now, they are not exactly queuing up to support her either. It was incredibly telling that May took questions for well over an hour in the Commons today before a single MP stood up to support her deal. And while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn survived a much bigger challenge from his MPs thanks to overwhelming support from his party membership, May has only lukewarm backing from Conservatives in parliament and the wider party.
This afternoon Conservative Brexiteers met in a parliamentary committee room to discuss how to topple May. Not all of the 35 or so Tory MPs present in the room supported the move to oust her. But when their de facto leader Jacob Rees-Mogg declared that he had submitted a letter of no confidence in her leadership, there was a loud approving banging of desks inside the room.
He later emerged to a huge media scrum which followed him to an awaiting press conference on the steps of parliament outside. Following his announcement, several more Conservative MPs revealed that they too have submitted their letters calling for May to go. Long-threatened but never delivered, the Brexiteer plan to oust May is now in full swing.
It’s a question of when May is ousted, not if
It’s not yet clear whether the ERG yet have the numbers to oust May. However, what is clear from today is that she will be unable to get her deal through parliament. And if May is defeated on her deal then she will surely have run out of road. No prime minister, however stubborn, could carry on after losing the support of her own Cabinet and parliament on such an important issue as this. Whatever the Fixed Term Parliaments Act states, May would be finished and the calls for a new prime minister, a general election or even potentially a second Brexit referendum would become overwhelming.
Events are changing rapidly, and by the time you read this, there may well have been several more resignations from May’s Cabinet. At the time of writing, the precise nature and timing of her departure remains uncertain. But what is certain is that it is now only a question of when she is forced out, not if. The end of the road for May is now clear for all to see. The only question is how long it takes the prime minister and her party to realise it.