Getting rid of May doesn’t resolve the worst thing about her deal

The papers are full of speculation that Theresa May’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. So far so like every other day for the past year or so.

If current reports are to be believed, up to 11 members of the Cabinet are poised to replace her with David Lidington, Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt pending a leadership contest in the Autumn.

This was always the danger though. If she got her deal through, she would always have been quietly – or not- dumped later this year and the new leader would preside over negotiations with the EU on a longer term trade deal. It is likely that that leader would be someone who was acceptable to the ERG. That means they would be after all sorts of impossible unicorns like a free trade deal where they had to comply with absolutely none of the EU’s rules.

There is no way the EU would agree to the carefully crafted single market being compromised – and nor should they. The level playing field across Europe is a very good thing and leaving it is an act of folly.

But it’s not only trade deals with the EU that need to be forged. It’s trade deals with the rest of the world. We would be at a distinct disadvantage negotiating on our own with China and the US. Vince keeps citing the example of Switzerland whose access to Chinese markets is next to nothing while the Chinese access to Swiss markets is almost total.

And being on the receiving end of a trade deal that would be acceptable to Donald Trump is not something that anyone should relish. Remember the fuss over whether TTIP would compromise our NHS? Well how much do you trust right wing Tories to protect our NHS in the first place? But also, when you show up at negotiations with 27 of your mates you have more clout rather than when you pitch up on your own with a whiff of desperation about you.

Replacing the leader does not make the deal she has negotiated and the entire Cabinet has signed up to any more palatable and it shouldn’t make it easier to get it through.

I actually wonder, though, if she could actually be forced out. She is, as we have all seen, pretty stubborn.

Would a large scale cabinet revolt actually make any difference? Gordon Brown clung on between 2009-10. Jeremy Corbyn has clung on in defiance of his MPs and there is still pretty much a free for all on the Labour benches. He has the support of the party in the country though and the same can’t be said for May. And it’s easier in opposition to function when you don’t have a cohesive team.

Oh to be a fly on the wall at that Cabinet meeting tomorrow. Although we might as well be because details seem to appear in the press after them these days as all sides play to their respective galleries.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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29 Comments

  • John Marriott 24th Mar '19 - 8:38am

    David who? Oh, him. He’s a Europhile, isn’t he. Now that would go down well with the Brexiteers in the cabinet! Seriously, though, can ANYBODY predict with any certainly what is going to happen in this crazy country of ours at the moment?

  • Since Vince is uncompromised by any future leadership ambitions, he ought to be the natural convenor of a “what do we do next in terms of governing the country at a time of crisis” conversation? Unfortunately such a development probably requires a herculean effort by the Shadow Cabinet and/or experienced politicians within Labour.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Mar '19 - 9:40am

    The equivalent Cabinet meeting for Margaret Thatcher is recorded in Ken Clarke’s memoirs, A kind of Blue. He went in first and last. Others in the queue were visibly frightened. He told her that if she stayed they would lose the upcoming general election.
    He also says that being way behind in the polls was normal for her, but she had won general elections with large majorities.
    The main difference with today is that Thatcher had failed to get enough Tory MPs to vote for her under the rules designed by a previous PM. An incumbent leader needed more than 50% to win, whereas a challenger could win with a simple majority. This looks undemocratic but they are Tories, recognising the realities of power in their party.
    She was persuaded not to stand in the second round and went to the Lords. There were three challengers and STV could be used. Hurd came third, rhyming, Heseltine came second, Major won. Edwina Currie denied on tv that there could be “proportional representation in the Tory Party”, so she did not know the rules and did not understand STV.

  • On Thursday evening I was watching “This Week” on BBC1 and was surprised that Michael Portillo thinks it is possible that the Conservative Party will be destroyed if Theresa May resigns as Prime Minister.

    The scenario outlined was that Theresa May resigns as Prime Minister within the next two weeks and someone like David Lidington becomes Prime Minister so a long extension for leaving the EU can be granted and a new leave deal can be negotiated which is softer than Theresa May’s deal. No details of how the destruction would work were given.

    Common sense and history should teach us that there will always be a conservative party in the UK. A large section of the population support conservatism. In 1846 the Conservative Party split, but it still continued and even held office within 6 years.

    If the Conservative Party split into those who would support a softer Brexit and a long extension and those who would not. I don’t think it is clear which section would end up as the Conservative Party. It is generally recognised that the local Conservative Associations are controlled by people who favour a harder Brexit. Therefore it is possible that these local Associations would de-select Conservative MPs who supported a more moderate Brexit government.

    The question then becomes could an interim party leader ensure that those who supported them would remain as Conservative candidates? Could those who supported them ensure that in any leadership contest that the choice for party members is between two candidates who support a softer Brexit? It is therefore possible for a new leader of the party to control who is allowed to stand as Conservatives and expel those you oppose these Conservative candidates. With this outcome the Conservative Party continues but is even more centrally controlled and has fewer workers on the ground.

    If however if a harder Brexit candidate was elected leader and not the softer Brexit interim Prime Minister I wonder if the interim Prime Minister could continue in office supported by Conservative MPs who were de-selected by their Associations and those Labour MPs who do not wish to see Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister? No matter what happened next the harder Brexit Conservative party would continue to exist and develop.

    Under none of these scenarios is the Conservative Party destroyed.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Mar '19 - 3:00pm

    Andrew Marr did not report that Tom Watson was booed at the rally, but by who?
    Labour supporters who wanted him to adhere to Labour conference policy?
    Or others who disliked the PM’s policy?
    Keir Starmer is learned and honourable, with a difficult job. He deserves sympathy. He was unwilling to announce on tv to what extent the parliamentary Labour party is willing to compromise. OK, but, as a lawyer, he is used to using precise language. To what extent is the PM prepared to compromise? That is two questions. She may be unwilling or reluctant to compromise, as at the Heads of Government meeting. She may also be unprepared, as we have seen.

  • Bernard Aris 24th Mar '19 - 4:12pm

    I totally agree with Caron’s analysis.

    As a Dutch historian I cann’remember anytime since 1688 (when the two party system got established, with the Whigs supporting reform) that a British prime minister hasn’t been a party leader at the same time; Lloyd George (if you define him as a party rebel inside the loose Liberals organisation) being tolerated by the Tories in 1916-’22, as the only possible exception I can think of. But maybe I missed something or somebody.
    There is no written British constitution, so there a no legal procedures in place for replacing a prime minister in midstream (the only Dutch example of that is the exile London government late 1040 when the sitting PM defected and queen Wilheklmina installed a sitting minister, combative Gerbrandy, as new PM). So the question of challenging or deposing the PM is founded on the Standing Party Orders of the governing party. The Tory ones exclude a challenge since the last one failed in December. The era of “men in grey suits” is long gone.
    So why is everybody getting so exited about something (dumping May, installing Gove or a Remainer) that is patently impossible?

  • I guess we are back to it being a tad more likely – although still very unlikely – that Parliament could “appoint” its own (may be non Tory) Prime Minister to conduct EU negotiations through a vote of no confidence and then confidence in someone else.

    It would need obv. the DUP or a section of the Tory party to renege on the Tories which is unlikely as the DUP would not want to be seen as bad allies and the Tories would not want to back a non-Tory. And Tory Remainers and Leavers probably couldn’t agree on anyone.

    Intriguingly we have had a Prime Minister who was not a member of parliament in that the Queen made Alec Douglas-Home prime minister when he was not an MP or a member of the House of Lords (having renounced his peerage) for 20 days while he won a by-election. Conveniently the sitting of Parliament was delayed for him!

    History (or Wikipedia at least which is the same thing these days!!!) doesn’t record when he became Conservative party leader and there was of course no election at that time but I assume simultaneously with being appointed PM.

    I am not sure that there is anything in our unwritten constitution that technically says that they have to be an MP – just that they have to have the confidence of the Commons. Although in practice it probably wouldn’t ever happen and they have to obviously defend themselves in Parliament and answer PMQs – although presumably a minion could do that for them.

    It is BTW clear that Tory MPs could dump a prime minister by a vote of no confidence in the Commons – although they would need someone lined up to take their place to win a vote of confidence within two weeks or they would be a general election. It could be that even the threat of that or the famed “men in grey suits” would be enough. And nothing that would mean that person has to be leader just have the confidence of Parliament which they might have if they promised not to stand in a leadership. election.

  • I have the feeling that we think a new referendum will reverse things. But are we clutching at straws?

  • Bernard Aris 24th Mar '19 - 6:53pm

    Alan Clark in his somewhat idiosyncratic book “The Tories {and the Nation State} 1922-’97” ( Phoenix/Weidebnfeld & Nicoloson, London 1999, p. 392-3) tells us that when the 1922 Committee (during the Profumo affair, autumn’63) told Macmillan it was better that he went, Macmillan told the queen he would resign sine die (without a fixed date) to scare the Tories into supporting him. The political mood improved, although the press tried to continue to frame a party revolt.
    Then Macmillan had his prostatic upset, and had to resign, pointing in a letter to the (visiting) queen to Douglas Home as successor.
    This was during the Tory party conference, where Quinitin Hogg, lord Hailsham, spoiled his appeal by announcing he was renouncing his peerage (too eager to become leader); RAB Butler and Maudling were too dull, so Douglas Home emerged and was asked by the queen. Butler, Maudling and Hailsham agreed to serve under him; and Home renounced his peerage, won a by-electon and became PM. See: A. Sked & Chris Cook, Post-War Britain, A Political History, 1945-’99; Penguin Books, London, 1993, p. 184-89.
    Was it later that the Commons adjourned automatically until all 3 big Autumn Conferences had finished, as it is now?

  • The Tories must now be terrified of a general election, after the last one. There is no common agreement on what arrangement we should have with the EU, after all the chaos at present is over the interim arrangements. The Irish border issue is not going to go away. Whether May gets her way or not chaos will continue.
    Well we shall see but I do not think May’s plan is finished yet.
    May will never get to try out her negotiating skills to solve the rest of our problems though.

  • @Bernard Aris

    The two-party system is generally dated to at least a decade earlier than 1688; the initial divide was over whether Charles II’s brother, the Duke of York (later James II) should be excluded from the throne on the basis of being a “Papist” (a thing that had become public only five years earlier). Arguably the first party leader was the Earl of Shaftesbury, who organised the club that would later become the Whigs. The Tories (of that time, who were not in any sense the precursors of today’s Conservatives) took a little longer to get organised, and did not initially have a “leader”; to an extent, the King himself functioned as their leader. At this time, Crown ministers were chosen directly and individually by the King, and although occasionally one of them might obtain a leading rôle, there was no “Prime Minister.”

    Of course, the organisation of Whigs and Tories merely formalised splits that had long been evidenced in English politics and had existed in a similar (though more brutal) form starting in the 1640s, when the country fragmented between Royalists and Parliamentarians. The Exclusion Crisis in a way was not about the person of the Duke of York himself, or his religion, but about the right of Parliament to govern the succession to the Crown and thus (more indirectly) its right to control the executive.

    Which obviously is a still relevant issue.

  • Andrew Melmoth 24th Mar '19 - 7:30pm

    -Bernard Aris
    In 1995 John Major resigned the Tory leadership in order to flush out potential challengers. So he was for a brief period a British PM without being a party leader. Of course he would have resigned as PM if he hadn’t won the subsequent leadership election (billed by the Sun as ‘Redwood vs Deadwood’)

  • Edwin Poultney 24th Mar '19 - 9:58pm

    I don’t think it matters who is in charge of the Conservative Party next week, none can be trusted to realistically consider siding with any alternatives put forward by other Parties. Even if they allow indicative votes on alternatives and any gain a majority in Parliament expect to see immediate backroom deals with the ERG and DUP to attempt a positive 3rd Vote on Mrs May’s deal to regain the initiative. The unknown has always been the Brexit splits in Labour and whether they will respond to Whips. it puzzles me why Labour think they have a strong Brexit supporting base that they have to appease by constantly sitting on the fence and some even siding with the Government. Leave won the Referendum in depressed Labour supporting areas as much because of anti-Government votes due to Austerity than anti-EU votes although some were swayed by UKIP and popular press propaganda at the time. In London where many of the Labour Shadow Ministers have seats, around 20% of their constituents have signed the Article 50 Revocation petition far more than in Lib Dem Seats of Tom Brake and Ed Davey. Stopping Mrs May’s Deal or No Deal may ultimately depend only on whether Labour Rebels support the Government and even in Kate Hoey’s seat the Petition shows strong support. The deadline for No Deal looms again if nothing is approved next week.

  • I feel it is worth pointing out that a substantial ( perhaps even majority) number of Tory MP’s are not actually Conservatives, they are Reactionary, they wish to return the UK to a glorious past, the 1950’s at best and in many cases decades before that. Of cause in the real world this cannot happen, but they will do much damage. As to the fence sitting Labour Party, well the hardline leadership seem very commited to a red unicorn Brexit, the membership appear to be revolting against this, but badly split they are. It us also worth pointing out they too have a Reactionary wing, but they seem to wish to return to the glorious 70’s. Never have the UK been so badly served by their polticians but as the old saying goes

    “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”

  • Simon Horner 25th Mar '19 - 8:04am

    It is reported on the BBC this morning (Today programme) that Boris Johnson has likened the British to the Israelites, oppressed by the Pharoah in Brussels. This “analogy” appears to have been devised solely to support the headline: “Let my people go”. The BBC loves it, of course, because it is a striking soundbite, but they must know that the comparison is ludicrous. For forty years, readers of the Telegraph, Mail, Express and other publications have been indoctrinated by this kind of nonsense. And the BBC makes sure the rest of us don’t lose out! I know the march in London was huge but, I fear, it is far too late to turn the ship around.

  • @Simon Horner – presumably Johnson sees himself as Moses the deliverer. Moses, of course, never reached the Promised Land.

  • Denis Loretto 25th Mar '19 - 8:35am

    Frankly I couldn’t care less whether May survives or goes. What really matters is that “no deal” is still very much on the table. I have been and still am completely in support of the “put it to the people” campaign but our representatives need to ensure most of all that we do not crash out without even a withdrawal agreement. What is happening now to achieve that? Bear in mind that any indicative votes this week will have no binding effect. They are really addressing the future possibilities referred to in the political declaration. There will be no change in the withdrawal agreement which has over 500 pages pf crucial text, without which there will be no solid basis for European trade to continue without legal challenge and no transition agreement to give time to adjust. Our representatives must play their hands very carefully. I go so far as to say that if (and only if) it becomes clear that the “people’s vote” cannot get a parliamentary majority we should act to ensure that at the very least the withdrawal agreement gets through.

  • Laurence Cox 25th Mar '19 - 11:55am

    @Bernard Aris

    Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, is generally considered to be the first British Prime Minister (1721-42).

    https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Walpole-1st-Earl-of-Orford

  • Bill le Breton 25th Mar '19 - 2:57pm

    I take it May is still PM.

    I thought the Sunday Times piece was pure Sunday journalism – sold papers.

    May is at the fulcrum of the Conservative Party. Or at the San Andreas Fault line of the Party. Why would anyone to one side of her position risk allowing someone from the other side to assume the leadership? What good would having a new leader positioned axactly where May is?

    So … we move on to indicative votes, predicting that not one of the scenarios will gain a majority of the House of Commons.

    Of the options it is perhaps most likely that May’s Withdrawal Agreement gains the most votes.

    Nothing has changed following the EU summit: with no majority in a meaningful vote the UK leaves the EU without a deal just a few days later.

    Everything has changed following the EU summit: the only alternative to a majority on May’s WA is now a long pause which would only be granted only if the UK holds EU elections.

    Is that good for Liberal Democrats?

    We have spent months playing to our base and finding that that base is circa 8% – because the rest of the 48% or 60% don’t trust us/think us irrelevant/believe us past our sell-by date. 8% does not get your much in EU elections. At best our existing MEP plus London? Dire %s in many regions and nations. It will show people once again our weakness and confirm their opinion of our irrelevance.

    That is why it is in our interest for the WA to go through and for us to be a visionary shaper of the subsequent Association Agreement.

  • As an aside….. Does anyone know how to cancel a bid on e.bay?
    I’m desperate…
    I bid £10 on a cowboy outfit and now I’m only 15 minutes away from owning the Tory Party.

    Brexit isn’t all doom and gloom.

  • Denis Mollison 25th Mar '19 - 6:57pm

    @Denis Loretto, Bill le Breton – I hope our MPs and their allies hold their nerve; Parliament has already shown it has a majority to veto No Deal, so if no specific Brexit deal (May’s or otherwise) can get a majority vote there will have to be another discussion with the EU as to what can avoid No Deal on 12th April. They surely cannot just allow the government to kick the can further down the road, which leaves options Referendum, General Election, or simply Revoke Article 50 (unlikely, but as well as its 5.5 million backing it is the only option that does not require the EU27’s consent).

  • Malcolm Todd 25th Mar '19 - 9:49pm

    “Parliament has already shown it has a majority to veto No Deal”
    – yes, but not that it has the wherewithal to actually prevent it.

  • John Marriott 25th Mar '19 - 10:21pm

    Another piece of the Brexit jigsaw falls into place. Does Parliament now take control? Let’s see if we can find a majority for anything. Let’s have a look at Norway Plus.

  • >Does Parliament now take control?
    Parliament has now taken control – interesting times…

    Now can Parliament follow through and deliver a final verdict and directive to May before close of business on Thursday…

  • Bill le Breton 26th Mar '19 - 9:47am

    Denis, you write, ” Parliament has already shown it has a majority to veto No Deal, so if no specific Brexit deal (May’s or otherwise) can get a majority vote there will have to be another discussion with the EU as to what can avoid No Deal on 12th April.

    Sorry but this is wishful thinking.

    The EU and especially Macron made it perfectly clear, When nothing is voted through any extension has to be long. And necessitates the UK holding EU elections on the proper date. No ifs, not buts. The EU has finally spoken. See the action of Germany today on No Deal arrangements.

    And then “Referendum, General Election, or simply Revoke Article 50 (unlikely, but as well as its 5.5 million backing it is the only option that does not require the EU27’s consent).”

    This is not the case. Everything bar a no deal exit requires EU permission – that comes with the binding fact of a long extension. We would like time for a referendum. OK perhaps but still you must have those elections. We will revoke At 50 before April 12th. ie without reference to the general public? Phew. Bold. Actually reckless. But after April 12? EU elections then. A General Election – ok but you still have to have that election worked round EU elections. So, a double election focused inevitably on Brexit.

    Every act by Lib Dems since 2011 has actually led to the reduction of Lib em influence.

    What we would have given for 30 MPs in 2015 – we could have had it but it required a different leader and different relations with the Tories following the 2011 wake-up call elections. The price we paid for continuing with that leader and those policies was the sacrifice of hard won constiuencies and council seats by the thousand.

    What we would have done for 25/30 MPs now. Appalling general election campaign spent talking about the leader’s conscience.

    What we would give for any MEPs post the 2019 EU elections in UK.

    What we would give for any MPs if there is a double election/ General Election in 2019. At 8% and a vibrant set of TIGers.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Mar '19 - 9:53am

    Roland you hope the Commons can reach a final verdict.

    Still the most likely is May’s deal. Followed by No Deal and Long Extension running neck and neck.

    The initial stages Wednesday until MV III the Commons is most likely to resemble the House of Lord’s trying meaningful votes to agree its future in March 2007

  • @Bill – Yes, I do hope the Commons can reach a verdict, which includes the possibility of May’s deal (although I would prefer something else). The important thing is that Parliament makes a positive decision in the interest of the nation, showing it has “taken back control” and is “sovereign”. [This is a bit like the information consent changes where it is necessary for people to actively opt into consenting to the collection of their data.] This process is also seemingly fracturing the major parties, something that might result in a Parliament composed of smaller voting blocks, another positive for democracy.

    Remember part of the current “fun and games” is down to the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which prevents the Executive from turning what they want into a confidence motion; without it, May’s WA would have been waved through with minimal debate on it’s first presentation to the house. A course of action taken by May’s predecessors to get key EU legislation through Parliament, which ultimately lead to the current mess.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Mar '19 - 7:31am

    Roland, very interesting thought.

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