Theresa May can’t survive a vote on her leadership

Conservative MPs will not allow Theresa May to face another election. A confidence vote might be their only way to stop that.

By Sam Shenton | 24th October 2018

The conventional wisdom is that Theresa May will probably survive a vote of no confidence in her leadership, at least for the time being. With the Brexit negotiations teetering on the edge of collapse over the issue of the Irish border, and the date of Britain’s Withdrawal rapidly approaching in 29th March 2019, the theory is that MPs wouldn’t support her removal at such a time. If a vote was called, the Prime Minister would, supposedly, win it easily and then be safe for at least another year to 18 months, able to sort out the Withdrawal, transition, and then the future relationship too. The problem with this theory of course is that it doesn’t account for the fact that the Prime Minister is Theresa May.

Having led an election campaign that saw her party lose their Commons majority despite a 20% point poll lead at the start of the campaign, it is impossible that Tory MPs will ever allow her to face another election. There is a possible situation in the future that the only way to prevent that happening is by removing her in a Vote of No Confidence, whenever that may be. We’ve seen so far that she isn’t going to go willingly, and Tory MPs largely know that.

MPs will have to face a decision if a confidence vote is called before the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the Commons. Not only will they have May’a performance as leader, PM, and lead Brexit negotiator to go by, but they will also have to ask the question of whether she will improve in a year’s time, and be able to deliver a coherent Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, as the person that will (likely) do most of the negotiating for it. If her recent record is anything to go by, it is difficult to see Brexiteers MPs trusting her with more negotiations with Brussels.

But they also have to ask them the question of whether a second confidence vote to remove Theresa May would be plausible. These events don’t come around often, and if you hold the vote prematurely, and then vote for her to remain as leader, does she risk not upsetting the party rank and file enough so as to cause another confidence vote after her 12 month grace period? The possibility is always there that after surviving the first vote, a second is never called because 48 letters do not reach Sir Graham Brady’s inbox yet again. MPs that don’t want to see May face another election will have to hold that possibility in the front of their minds, and vote accordingly. Do they risk not having a second chance to oust her? In politics, chances don’t often come twice to remove your Party’s leader.

Even the chaos that removing the Prime Minister at this point would supposedly unleash is not a good enough deterrent to the majority of Conservative MPs. If a confidence vote was held in November and May lost, she would not be removed as Prime Minister until February, with the Conservatives intent on avoiding another coronation following May’s succession to the leadership and the sheer number of MPs wanting to seek the keys to No.10. Another four months from the time of writing is more than enough time for May to finalise a Withdrawal Agreement and put in place the negotiating framework for the future relationship, before handing over to the next Leader and Prime Minister who will negotiate said relationship.

Theresa May is entering a time in which her MPs, and the DUP’s MPs, are all angry, and will direct their anger at the Prime Minister. She is also entering possibly the most dangerous time for a confidence vote that it is far from certain she will actually win. Tory MPs want her gone soon – will they risk losing the chance to oust her? My guess would be that in the heat of the moment, the majority come down and take their chance to replace her while it is presented to them.

Observations from a 22 year old on UK and US politics.

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