Feeling lucky, punk? That’s the message that Theresa May will deliver to her fractious ministers today at Chequers as the cabinet gathers to hammer out its preferred approach on customs. A senior ally of the PM’s tells Politico‘s Jack Blanchard that anyone who decides to quit will be given the number of the local cab firm and left to make the journey back from Buckinghamshire alone.
Is the PM right to think she has the strength to face down her detractors? The problem that the Brexiteers have is that they have the numbers to wound May but not to kill her. To remove a Conservative leader you need not only the signatures of 15 per cent of the parliamentary party (that’s 48 names as it stands) to trigger a contest but the votes of half the parliamentary party plus one (159, fact fans). There aren’t 159 Conservative MPs who want a drastic breach from the European Union.
The problem occupying both soft and hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party is that they know that it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to vote against the final deal that Theresa May strikes with the European Union. As one pro-European dissident noted, there is no way to vote against the final deal without triggering a constitutional and economic crisis.
Of course the big risk is that enough Brexiteers don’t feel the same way about voting down the deal and leaving without one. But that carries problems for them too – if May loses votes on the deal, the only way that she will be able to get Labour MPs to end their careers by defying the Labour leadership on such an important vote is if the Brexit she negotiates is very, very soft.
But on the other hand if they do nothing then they end up tied to a flavour of Brexit they don’t want. And that’s the dilemma faced by the Brexiteers: knowing that if they do something they will probably lose and if they do nothing they will probably lose.