Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
5 December 2018

Sajid Javid’s difficult day is a reminder the Brexit problem isn’t all about Theresa May

Although the Home Secretary had an easier ride than Theresa May, the essential problem of parliamentary arithmetic remains unchanged.

By Stephen Bush

However you slice it – the bookmakers’ odds, chatter about him by journalists, conversations with Conservative MPs, ConservativeHome’s regular surveys of their own readers – Sajid Javid is one of the main contenders for the Tory leadership.

So it was striking how hard of a time he faced in the Commons chamber when he kicked off the second day of debate on the withdrawal agreement. During a debate, speakers face “interventions” from other members of the House. We often talk about “hostile” and “supportive” interventions. Hostile interventions will tend to either be heavily detailed questions or ones designed to put the speaker in a tricky position politically. Supportive interventions – the classic example being “does the right honourable gentleman agree that this debate about cardboard boxes proves our longterm economic plan is working?” – give the speaker a chance to regroup, either because they can reply with a rote reiteration of party policy, or by simply agreeing with the intervention made.

Of course, Javid faced difficult interventions from the Opposition parties, including from the Conservatives’ nominal coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party.

But he did quite well as far as interventions from his own side went. Remember that however you slice it, more than half of backbench Conservatives have declared against the deal so the number of people who were going to have anything nice to say about the deal who could intervene in the debate was vanishingly small. In the end, Javid managed to get just one intervention that was supportive of the government’s policy – but he did receive a number of interventions of the “while this deal is terrible, would the right honourable gentleman like to take the opportunity to say that he loves puppies and kittens?” variety.

Those interventions illustrated two things. The first is that one reason why Theresa May has a rough ride in the House is that Conservative MPs don’t believe she will be around for very much longer, while someone whose shelf life is likely to carry on for a bit gets an easier time.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. 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.

But the second and more important illustration is that merely changing the identity of the person at the top of the Tory party doesn’t really do anything to change the parliamentary arithmetic or the feelings of the House of Commons about Brexit – feelings it is hard to see being reconciled with any form of Brexit.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them