LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Thursday 9 May 2019

Nowhere does farce quite like Westminster, but the leaks, asides through “close associates” and insider reports surrounding Brexit, and by extension, Theresa May’s long overdue tenure at Number 10 are now getting so predictable they barely deserve any mention. They’re significance amounts to nil. But here goes.

Yesterday, Theresa May ignored the ultimatum delivered the previous day by the 1922 Committee: set a date of departure or the rules will be changed and she will be forced out. The last time the committee flirted with this idea, the vote went a against a rule change, 9 to 7. The Tory leader knows she has allies in the committee’s executive panel. For the time being at least, it does not pose a threat.

Instead, May will meet the committee’s top order next Wednesday. According to the chair, Sir Graham Brady, as succour May has offered to table the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) before the European Elections on May 23rd. If it fails, May will step aside, so the logic goes.

Readers of this blog may recall when this idea first surfaced May was reported to have slammed it for the simple reason it would fail.

However, the prime minister has some nasty tricks up her sleeves. Quizzed by the Times, her allies refused to rule out indicative votes in advance of the WAB that could be used as a platform to usher in amendments along the lines of staying in the Customs Union until 2022, the main piece of bait Downing Street is trying to use to lure Labour into a compromise deal.

We will have to wait and see, what we’ve learnt over the past 24 hours could not be less circumstantial. One thing is virtually certain however, May will have to leave by the Autumn. She cannot preside over yet another shambolic party conference.

Much closer on the horizon are the European elections. “There are some people in CCHQ who think we’ll poll less than 10 per cent,” A Tory staffer told the FT. “We could come in behind the Brexit Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and even the Greens and Change UK.” If that’s the case, those members of the 1922 currently sticking with May could be forced to change their mind.

It also appears a decent cohort of Tory backbenchers are eager for the Brexit Party to win big, accelerating May’s exit. Andrea Jenkyns made her feelings plain on ITV’s Peston last night (see above). Brexiteer MP, Henry Smith has chipped in, saying: “I won’t be surprised at all if more voters turn to the Brexit Party. Nigel Farage is certainly doing a better job than Theresa May in leading, but this is an issue larger than party politics.” See Westmonster.

And it’s not just on Brexit where May is getting punished. Johnny Mercer has hit out at the government for failing to protect elderly veterans of the Troubles from prosecution. Excluding Brexit, the Plymouth MP has withdrawn his support until appropriate legislative measures are put in place.

“Many are my friends, and I am from their tribe.” That sentiment is widely shared.