Can the prime minister defy the odds and shrug off yet another political body blow?by Paul Wallace / November 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
Theresa May has her detractors, not least in her own party, but she has also won admiration for her sheer resilience. This is a prime minister, after all, whose imminent political demise has been predicted repeatedly since she lost the Conservative majority in last year’s disastrous election. Can she prevail yet again now that the unpalatable—if realistic—terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union have been revealed?
May’s ability to cope with seemingly fatal political bodyblows was on full display this week as she sought to muster support for the Brexit deal finally struck in Brussels. This torturous process spurred yet more cabinet resignations. A prime minister who created the Brexit department in the wake of the 2016 referendum, has now lost not just one but two incumbents as Dominic Raab followed David Davis in resigning as Brexit Secretary. Shortly afterwards Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, also resigned.
Would more cabinet ministers follow, turning a manageable trickle into a cascade that might fatally undermine May’s authority? As so often in the story of Brexit, Michael Gove appeared poised to make a decisive intervention when it emerged on Thursday that he had rejected the post of Brexit secretary. Gove reportedly wanted to pursue an alternative approach to Brexit, in which Britain would temporarily park itself in the position of countries such as Norway which are outside the EU but in the single market. Speculation was rife that he might follow Raab and McVey in resigning, further weakening May’s position. But today Gove stepped back from the brink.
Even if May has staunched the flow of resignations from the cabinet she may shortly have to face another hurdle, a formal challenge within the Conservative Party to her leadership. In a flurry of publicity on Thursday, hardline Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg added his letter calling for a no confidence vote to those already sent to Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee. It now looks increasingly likely that the pile of letters will reach 48, the number needed to trigger such a vote among Tory MPs. Yet even if this happens it seems unlikely that May would lose; and if she wins she cannot be challenged for a further 12 months.
May’s ability to withstand one blow after another reflects her personal strengths. After taking a battering in the House of Commons on Thursday as MPs vied with each…