With events moving fast in Westminster today, the WA team set out our take on the challenges facing the Prime Minister. Further updates will follow as the situation develops.
After two years of negotiation and speculation, Theresa May has finally delivered a draft Withdrawal Agreement text. The Prime Minister has tied the future of her premiership to the 585 page document. ‘Collective agreement’ of the Cabinet late last night has been followed this morning by two Cabinet resignations, one of them the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. This is a fast-developing situation, so what are the key questions that will inform what happens next?
Will there be more Cabinet resignations?
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was first out of the blocks this morning, followed closely by Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. Penny Mordaunt (International Development) and Andrea Leadsom (Leader of the House) are on the resignation watch list and there is intense focus on Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Gove is also rumoured to have been offered and rejected the vacant Brexit Secretary role. May is clearly planning to plough on and force the deal through but every Cabinet resignation represents another valuable vote lost in the meaningful vote and makes the job of leading her Party and the country that much more difficult.
Will Graham Brady receive 48 letters?
There has been significant speculation that Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, is close to (or may already) have received enough letters to trigger a formal vote of confidence in Theresa May’s leadership of the Party. Jacob Rees-Mogg has now openly done so and, while it remains to be seen how many other members of the ERG will follow his lead, the level of anger among Brexit supporting Conservative MPs does appear to be reaching its peak, making a leadership challenge increasingly likely. No 10 has officially confirmed that May would fight any challenge and, if she were to win, then she would be safe from another formal challenge for another twelve months.
How does a meaningful vote pass?
This is the most challenging question of all. The DUP have come out strongly against the deal and the confidence and supply agreement now appears dead in the water. It is already clear that a significant number of Brexiteer Conservative MPs will oppose the deal, with their numbers swelled by resignations from government positions (every PPS, no matter how unknown is still another vote May has lost). With the Labour front bench also lined up against the deal, the only hope for the Prime Minister appears to rest on sufficient numbers of Labour MPs crossing the House and supporting the deal in the national interest. There is currently very little evidence that enough of them are willing to do so. If the Prime Minister survives the week then this is a picture that may shift again before the vote takes place in early December but, as things stand right now, things look bleak for May.
What if May loses the meaningful vote?
This is currently unclear. It is difficult to envisage how the Prime Minister could continue if she were to lose the vote. The options available to her or her successor would be very unpalatable: to attempt to re-open negotiations with the EU; to call a General Election (no longer as straightforward as it was due to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act); or to call a second referendum. The truth is all bets would be off and the UK would be heading for a period of unprecedented political turbulence.
What are the immediate next steps?
The remaining members of the Cabinet will have a big decision to make over whether to follow Raab and McVey out of the door. Gove, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are seen as bell-weathers. They have the potential, in the next 48 hours, to decide the Prime Minister’s future.
Undecided Conservative MPs will look to the remainder of the Cabinet for a steer on what comes next and there will be many on the backbenches mulling over whether to submit their own letter.
The Prime Minister herself will have to reflect seriously on the implications of the clear challenge to securing a parliamentary majority in favour of the deal. So far, she appears determined to press on and call the bluff of her various detractors. But the situation is getting more challenging by the day.