May on the Ropes: Open Revolt Against PM’s Potentially Fatal Brexit Agreement
A tumultuous day ended with Theresa May in an incredibly precarious position, facing protests from potential revolutionaries plotting a leadership challenge, after presenting her plans for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union.
The PM rolled the dice as she proudly announced that her cabinet had approved her draft Brexit agreement. May presented this almost six-hundred paged treaty as a watershed in the negotiation process, and a landmark achievement of her premiership. After cabinet approval, the document detailing Britain’s terms of exit was sent to Brussels for the approval of the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier. It all seemed to be going swimmingly.
The three main criticisms of May’s agreement are
- ‘Backstop’ to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland in the form of a temporary customs union including the whole of the UK if a valid agreement on Irish trade is not reached. N Ireland would be more closely tied to the EU.This differing treatment of a British member state is something some ministers can simply not accept. Moreover, this would mean the adoption of some EU protocol and Brexiteers and Remainers suggest that this would mean being a default half member of the EU, but without a say in the institution’s workings. This is exacerbated by the fact that both sides would have to agree for this arrangement to end. MPs believe that the country will be trapped.
- Extension period until March 2021, during which the UK will continue to follow all EU rules and regulations. ECJ will still have jurisdiction. This extension period could then be extended via a Conservative party committee until “20XX”. This could mean any date between 2020 and 2099,as was highlighted by one back bencher. Uncertainty surrounding when or whether Britain will actually leave the EU has suffered crippling criticism from hardline Brexiteers, as May confessed that there is a ‘risk’ of no Brexit at all.
- Security and Foreign Policy agreements were not included in detail and are still undecided, adding to the confusion and uncertainty.
However, as the nation awoke the next day, members of the cabinet appeared to have changed their mind. May was suddenly wounded by resignation after resignation, notably from the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, followed by the Conservative Vice-Chairman, two junior ministers and two private secretaries, before an almighty backlash from all angles against her was unleashed in the commons. Having, undoubtably, spent long nights reading the massive wad of pages, staunch Remainers and ardent Brexiteers alike from Labour, the SNP, and, most importantly, members on the DUP and Conservative benches, slated the PM’s proposed agreement.May stood strong and defended her plans for three gruelling hours, but this was in the face of simply overwhelming resistance to a deal judged by the Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable to be “dead in the water”. Perhaps the most devastating was Jacob Rees-Mogg, who suggested that he might be shortly referring to May as,not the Prime Minister, but the humble Right Honourable Member for Maidenhead.
Shortly after contributing towards this gruelling ordeal for his boss, the leader of the ERG attempted to place the final nail in the coffin of May’s premiership as he called for May to resign and members to send votes of no confidence to the 1922 Committee. If 48 letters are received, a leadership election would then ensue. This short speech to members of the press outside the Palace of Westminster could change the government’s negotiating position completely. Rees-Mogg explicitly declared that the next Tory leader should be a Brexiteer, a true partisan of his Brexit fantasy. Although, he then announced that it would not be him, as ‘this is nothing to do with personal ambition’. This questionable claim highlights a Machiavellian instinct to watch,plot, stir and wait. He does not want to be Prime Minister yet. Nobody does. It has become a poisoned chalice. Instead, he slyly called upon the former Brexit Secretary David Davis, and the now notorious Boris Johnson, to throw their hats into the ring.
At this moment in time, a large number of outcomes are possible. Firstly, the outcome May is hoping for, would entail that this is just another overblown, dramatized blip, and those against May’s agreement lack the conviction to commence a serious act against it. This would mean the agreement would be voted through the House of Commons and be sent for review by the EU 27. This would be a significant step towards Brexit and would clear the way for intricate trade negotiations with the continent.
Secondly, there will most likely not be a leadership election right now, but those against May’s agreement may gather enough supporters to vote against the PM’s agreement in the commons. This could prove to be a fatal blow for May and a vote of no confidence would likely occur, followed by a leadership election and the crafting of a new agreement by a new PM. This would increase the likelihood of a No-Deal, or no Brexit at all. An alternative to May’s downfall if her agreement is voted down may be either a ‘People’s Vote’ or a General Election in 2019. The PM endured many calls for a People’s Vote from MPs such as Anna Soubry and Caroline Lucas in the house on Thursday. Even though she swiftly dismissed these requests, if the movement continues to gain support, she could not ignore it for much longer, especially if her agreement does not pass through a commons vote. An alternative to a referendum would be a General Election. The PM would prefer this, as another referendum would mean that she would be portrayed as a traitor by Brexiteers, especially if one of the options represented remaining a member of the EU.
At this present moment, it does not seem as though Rees-Mogg’s call for a vote of no confidence against the PM has been answered. Kenneth Clarke believes that May will stay on and the PM has already capitalised on this mood, offering the role of Brexit Secretary to the current Environment Secretary,Michael Gove. He has reportedly rejected her offer, as he would have reportedly want to change the nature of the PM’s agreement. If someone else accepts, May somehow persuades them to support her fully, and a potential leadership challenge blows over, which has happened many times during her tenure, she would be safe. For now. However,her big test would be making sure that her agreement passes through a vote in the House of Commons. This is looking incredibly unlikely, given the criticism regarding the treaty hurled at the PM by MPs on Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday evening, May hosted a news conference to respond to rumours of a leadership challenge and the horror show in the commons earlier that day. She reiterated her commitment to her deal, stating again that she believes ‘with every fibre of [her] being’ that it represents the best path for the country to take. She seems to be clinging on for now, comparing herself to Geoffrey Boycott, stating that she would ‘[stick] to it’ and ‘[get] the runs in the end’. However, as today has reminded us, British politics can turn on a sixpence at any point in these troubling times.