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11 July 2018

Hardline Brexiteers can keep resigning – it doesn’t mean they’ll topple Theresa May

The Prime Minister’s approach is still several degrees harder than majority opinion across the House would ideally like.

By Stephen Bush

It’s a good thing that football is coming home. There’s a parliamentary private secretary’s job that needs filling.

Conservative party vice-chairs Ben Bradley and Maria Caulfield are the latest MPs to quit the government. And there are more to come, according to the Mail and the Sun‘s Tom Newton Dunn: one every day until Theresa May rips up her Brexit strategy. The latter reports that Boris Johnson is planning to add to May’s woes with his resignation speech to the House on Monday

But as one  Conservative pointed out to me last night, the diehard Brexiteers’ “we’ll quit unless you change your mind” strategy implicitly concedes that they have no ability to replace Theresa May, or alter the trajectory of the Brexit strategy through votes in the House of Commons.

May’s approach is still several degrees harder than majority opinion across the House would ideally like – it may be soft enough to avert a Conservative rebellion but the difficult truth for Brexiteers is that this is the best Brexit they can get past Parliament and the only Brexit that maintains their own red lines as far as the Irish border and the Irish Sea go. (One senior Conservative flatly said last week that a party led by Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg or similar would “lose MPs” as pro-European Conservatives would break the whip and form their own party.)

Of course, Conservative MPs do have one route to the hardest of Brexits – it’s to vote with the opposition parties against the final deal that May strikes. I’d say it’s more likely than not that May’s deal with the European Union fails to pass Parliament on the first time of asking – but even that may not guarantee a hard Brexit. Don’t forget that Congressional Republicans voted down George W Bush’s bailout measures during the financial crisis the first time. The repercussions were economic harm to the United States and electoral harm to the GOP – but Bush’s programme still passed eventually. And the truth of the weakness of Conservative Brexiteers is that they are in a similar position. 

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