Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
18 December 2017

Why Theresa May is a lot safer than you might think

The PM can stay in office indefinitely provided she can keep the soft Brexiteers on side.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May, we want you to stay? That’s the message coming out of the Conservative Party per the Times‘s Sam Coates: an increasing number of Tory MPs want the PM to stick around until the question of Britain’s EU exit is resolved.

The notional reason is to avoid the Brexit talks being thrown into chaos by a leadership election. That holds true for some MPs but there is also a growing sense that while Brexit is in doubt, the likes of Amber Rudd have no hope of convincing Conservative activists to back them in a leadership contest.

There’s another element that is particularly important as the cabinet finally begins to discuss just how much regulatory alignment it is willing to put up with in order to retain a close trading relationship with the EU: the balance of forces in the Conservative Party.

Although there are enough Brexit ultras to force a vote of no confidence in May’s leadership, they are nowhere close to making up half of the parliamentary party plus one, which means that the PM can stay in office indefinitely provided she can keep the soft Brexiteers – who made her Prime Minister in the first place, don’t forget – on side.

A softer Brexit might lose the votes of some Conservative backbenchers but it would be more than made up for by Labour votes if May reached out. That’s the deal that the Conservative rebels are urging Downing Street to make, Heather Stewart reveals in the Guardian. If May takes that route she can remain in Downing Street until 2021 and perhaps even have another crack at the electorate. (Stranger things have happened, you know.)

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But the PM could also do a deal in the opposite direction. Yes, the balance of forces in parliament favours a soft Brexit. But parliament lost its main leverage over the shape of Brexit when it voted to trigger Article 50 and it’s not immediately clear how – or even if – that power can be regained. Conservative Remainers can’t upset the apple cart either because any Tory leadership election would see activists opt for a hard Brexiteer anyway.

So for all that there is a great deal of talk about May’s weakness, as the time comes to decide what the final relationship with the European Union will look like, she has more freedom to set the country’s destination than is widely thought.

Topics in this article :