By Campaign Agent Joe Monk
It was no surprise that the threshold for triggering a vote of no confidence, sending 48 letters to the chairman of the 1922 select committee, was reached given May’s delay of the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement. Many would argue that there would have been more credibility in proceeding with the vote than delaying it altogether, in the hope she could re-negotiate with the EU and deliver a deal to parliament that would be approved of. The former leader of the Tories, who also faced a vote of no confidence by his parliamentary colleagues, Iain Duncan Smith, even commented on how the mood had changed within the corridors of the Commons. Many who reluctantly backed her deal, as opposed to the prospects of no deal that the European Research Group would favour, were left disappointed given that the EU Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker, had said that May’s current deal was the only viable option and that renegotiations were off the table.
Once the 48-letter threshold is surpassed, a leadership contest then proceeds and, in accordance with the party rules, Conservative MP’s must then vote in a secret ballot and decide whether they have faith in their current leader; 50% is needed to topple the leader. Thus, in reality, the fact that 180 or so Conservative MP’s declared their support for May meant little given that no one besides themselves will know how they voted. If the leader is successful, they are safeguarded for a year before another vote can be called. Conversely, losing means a leadership contest ensues which, with the Brexit deadline becoming increasingly prominent, would delay the process for any renegotiations with Brussels.
Many commentators noted that Sir Graham Brady consulted with the PM the day before the vote was officially declared, which could be seen as a major impediment to those that want to see her out of Downing Street. May had time to prepare her speech the morning the vote was declared, in addition to consulting with cabinet colleagues and advisors to ensure they made themselves visible across all media outlets and therefore consolidated their support for the PM. The fact that the vote was to take place on the same day it became official ensured that many in the European Research Group didn’t have the time to gather momentum and support to overthrow the PM. Whether this was a strategic ploy, or an attempt to get the vote out of the way to prevent any delay in the Brexit process, it paid off, with May coming out as victor with 200 votes of confidence, as opposed to 117 that showed no faith in her premiership.
May’s victory came as a surprise to some due to the sheer amount of criticism and division within the party. Notably, over a third of her colleagues said they had no faith in her, and would rather risk a possible general election than stay in power to ensure that Brexit is delivered. One could argue that she won because no one actually wants the job of PM. Whatever option Britain eventually takes – whether that be May’s deal, a no deal, a second referendum or a general election – all will cause division, and it’s hard to see any positives from any of these outcomes. As a result, no one wants to be in Downing street when this eventually happens. This could be why Labour is still yet to call a vote of no confidence. Would they realistically want to be in government when the uncertainties of Brexit actually happen? Both the Brexit wing of the Tories and the Labour party could be seen as opportunists waiting for events to unfold so then they can come in and say that they will clean up the mess left by the May administration.
Therefore, although the records will say that May won the confidence vote, this should not be taken as a widespread show of support for her leadership: many within the party have little hope for her prospects as leader, yet many still want her to stay in and act as the ‘fall guy’ for the uncertainties that are yet to come.
Sources and Further Reading
Alessandra Scotto Di Santolo, ‘” Time for CHANGE!” Moment Iain Duncan Smith told no confidence vote in May triggered’, Daily Express (12 December 2018)
Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin, ‘Juncker: “no room whatsoever” to renegotiate Brexit deal’, The Guardian (11 December 2018)
‘No confidence vote in Theresa Nay: Rules for a challenge’, BBC (12 December 2018)
Heather Stewart, ‘Theresa May defeats Tory coup over Brexit deal but is left damaged’, The Guardian (13 December 2018)
Image: Number10 @flickr