Christmas chaos looms for Theresa May
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 07:04 07 December 2018
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Political commentators are often expected to make predictions – but none of the Westminster commentariat have managed to call the fall out from Brexit correctly.
Who could have predicted the utter mess the country has found itself in?
So making predictions about what might happen in the next few days, as this political shambles nears its climax, is fraught with danger.
But here goes: Theresa May is going to lose the vote on December 11.
In East Anglia South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon has confirmed he will not back the prime minister and Harwich and North Essex Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin is also expected to rebel.
But most of our Tories will back the PM.
It is predicted though that as many as 100 of her MPs might vote the deal down. And the three votes earlier this week – on Dominic Grieve’s amendment and the publication of the legal advice – clearly prove that any authority Mrs May and her team of overworked whips once had vanished long ago.
So if she loses, what chaos will ensue?
Mrs May could go back to Brussels and attempt to renegotiate. As it stands the European Union has been quite clear: This is the deal, take it or leave it. But there will be nerves about Mrs May potentially falling. The EU is as desperate as the majority of MPs for some kind of deal to pass.
If there are some further concessions – which could have already been worked into the EU’s planning – then expect them only to be cosmetic. But in the face of a tumbling pound and market jitters this could be enough to convince the House to finally back Mrs May.
Another option if, as expected, the markets react badly to the prospect of a political crisis followed by a no-deal Brexit would be to simply try again. Mrs May will consider putting exactly the same deal before parliament once more and saying “I think we need to reconsider”. This really would be the last chance saloon for the PM. If she lost again surely she could not carry on as leader and prime minister.
And of course even before she makes that decision her own MPs may well have taken it out of her hands. Only a few weeks ago it seemed the European Research Group of Tory MPs were set to topple the leader. Jacob Rees-Mogg was confident enough letters opposing the prime minster would be sent and it appeared Mrs May would have to battle to keep hold of the keys to Number 10.
But the required 48 letters failed to materialise. Privately some who had their pens hovering said they had decided to hold fire until after the vote. If she lost, they said, the letter would go in. So come next Wednesday morning there is every possibility Mrs May will not only wake up with a gigantic Brexit hangover but also facing a leadership challenge.
In that instances she would have to convince a simply majority she was the right leader.
Then there are the two nuclear options: A general election or a second referendum.
Mrs May has been clear throughout the Brexit process that however loud the Remain camps shouts there will be no new vote on leaving the EU. I believe that she will not call another referendum. But we should not rule one out. If there is a change of leadership there is a possibility that we will be asked to think again.
But I do believe we can forget a general election. Since the Coalition Government brought in the Fixed Term Parliament Act it is now much more difficult for the PM to call an election midterm. Mrs May would need a two thirds majority of the House – and the last thing many Tories still bruised from last year’s vote want is a general election.
Bluntly, the only thing that can break the Brexit impasse before MPs dash off back to their constituencies before the festive break is Mrs May winning the vote. And that would be a true Christmas miracle.
MP visits constituency shocker
“It is the Cabinet Office for you,” a workmate shouted across the newsroom one morning this week. “Something about a ministerial visit?”
These are the types of phone calls anyone covering the political beat loves. In my years as a reporter I’ve interviewed Tony Blair, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May – among many others who have shaped our country for better and worse. It is always fascinating to tussle with leaders and to see them working up close.
I grabbed the phone: “Who is it?” Visions of another round with the prime minister flashed through my head.
“Chloe Smith is going to be in Norwich on Friday ...” a voice replied. Wow. Hold the front page. An MP in her own constituency while parliament is not sitting. “She will be discussing Mrs May’s Brexit deal ...” Now, I have a lot of time for Ms Smith but trying to sell this as a ministerial visit highlights just how nervous the government is about losing that Brexit vote.