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13 July 2017

Has Theresa May forgotten that she doesn’t have a parliamentary majority any more?

From her EU Withdrawal Bill, it certainly looks like it.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May revealed today that she “shed a tear” when the exit poll showing that she had lost her majority in the House of Commons came out. The subject of her weakened position in parliament is clearly the source of some distress for the Prime Minister, as you’d expect.

But as far as the stages of grief go, it seems pretty clear from the EU Withdrawal Bill that she is stuck firmly at “denial” of the situation.

I’ll reiterate, as the parliamentary reality seems to have escaped Downing Street: the Conservatives have lost their Commons majority, and even with their alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party plus the support of Anne Marie Morris, the former Tory MP who lost the whip after she used the N-Word at a public event, they only have a working majority of 14. That means just seven Tory MPs can defeat May if they vote with the opposition parties.

Therefore, any bill the government wants to pass has to either a) command the support of at least 312 Conservative MPs, or b) have some kind of policy that can peel off votes from the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, or less likely, Labour or the sole Green MP Caroline Lucas. 

Labour, of course, wants to defeat the government and force an early election as soon as possible. However, the Conservatives will be able to get Labour votes on issues where it would embarrass the opposition to oppose them, or where there is genuine agreement.

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But the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill doesn’t even meet the first condition. The sweeping powers to amend legislation that originally came to British law through the European Union without recourse to parliamentary legislation, and the rights that will be lost by British citizens living in the United Kingdom if it passes unamended, are all going to struggle to clear Tory MPs. (One reason for the early election was to escape that part of the party which is worried by an overmighty executive.)

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It will of course be opposed by the Liberal Democrats. The lack of a generous offer on repatriation of powers to the Scottish government means that the SNP will oppose it, and that also puts pressure on Conservative MPs in Scotland to voe against it as well.

The threat to rights, particularly workers’ rights, gives Labour both a good excuse and a genuine reason to vote against it. Meanwhile, the threats to not only labour market rights but to social rights for LGBT people will ensure that there is active opposition outside of parliament.

Frankly, this is a bill which would have struggled to pass the House of Commons unamended before the loss of the Conservative majority. It has next to no chance now.

Has the Prime Minister forgotten that she doesn’t have a parliamentary majority anymore?