Theresa May’s Brexit Showdown
Could next week signal the beginning of the end for Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party? Will she succeed in reversing the amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill made by the House of Lords; will she be forced to concede some of the amendments in order to overturn others, or will she seek to overturn them all, but fail to do so if her backbench Remain rebels play hard-ball?
What is clear is that Theresa May’s authority over her party is wafer thin. If she blows it, might we see a leadership challenge this side of the summer recess, or will common sense prevail and those Conservative MPs who are itching to remove her from office hold back and wait until the Brexit deal is done and dusted before making their move? Certainly, by any logical calculation a change of leadership before Brexit is concluded looks politically suicidal.
And if Theresa May does suffer major defeats in the Commons, one must assume that would trigger a vote of no-confidence. This would place a significant amount of power in the hands of the DUP. If they are unhappy with the Brexit implications for Northern Ireland border issue, might they be willing to withdraw their support for the government and vote against the government?
The scenarios are endless, almost dizzyingly so. And it’s not as if Brexit is the only crisis facing this government. For example the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, looks to be in big trouble given the chaos on the railways, and with Labour now expected to vote against the third runway for Heathrow, Theresa May has to look to the SNP to see this particular policy through as several members of her own party look set to vote against the Heathrow plans too. And we’ve not even mentioned abortion in Northern Ireland yet.
And even if Theresa May comes out of the debates on the Lord amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill on 12 June relatively unscathed, she still has to get through a vote on the Brexit deal in the autumn, and there is no certainty that she will, whatever the final deal looks like. However you read it, this is a government in crisis. The Brexit negotiations look chaotic, and it’s hard to see how Theresa May can deliver a deal that is acceptable to all wings of her party. On the domestic front it’s hardly plain sailing. Yet with the Labour Party in as much of a shambles over Brexit as the Conservatives, Theresa May can at least take some comfort from the fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s own authority over his parliamentary party is also limited. It’s just not as obvious because in opposition your problems aren’t as exposed.