Archive for the 'Theresa May' Category


Loose change. The MPs who Theresa May needs to get on board

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

In a sense, it’s all very simple. Theresa May has negotiated her deal, now all she needs to do is persuade the House of Commons to back it. A huge majority of MPs reject the idea of leaving without a deal. The 2016 referendum mandated MPs to ensure that Britain leaves the EU. Nothing in practice can be negotiated before 29 March 2019. So it should be plain-sailing, shouldn’t it?

Theresa May’s deal has everything going for it except for one thing: backers. It was unceremoniously pulled in December when it was apparent that it was going to suffer a landslide defeat. The last month has been spent seeking to give it the kiss of life. Quite a few commentators think it is going to pass eventually but that begs the question where the votes for it are going to come from. So where are they going to come from?

Here are Theresa May’s groupings.

Confirmed supporters

The deal was not entirely friendless first time around. Theresa May could count on the support of all those frontbenchers who decided that they could reconcile it with their consciences. That gets her to 108 straight away. Another 70 Conservative MPs have publicly stated that they would vote for the deal. Stephen Lloyd left the Lib Dems to carry out his general election promise to support the deal. So that’s 179. She can reasonably expect this group to stay in line.

Unconfirmed Conservatives

Theresa May will also be hopeful that those who have been quiet so far will fall into line. There are 32 Conservative MPs who have kept their powder dry. This, however, is by no means a done deal. This group includes some who have made some pretty negative noises about it, including Sir Graham Brady.

But let’s assume that these are ultimately going to be supportive – it’s hard to see how she gets the deal over the line without the support of substantially all of these. That gets her to 211 MPs.

Unconfirmed others

There are a few MPs outside the Conservative party who are not taking a whip and who have not made their position clear. Of these, the Prime Minister will expect to scoop up Lady Sylvia Hermon and Frank Field. Kelvin Hopkins might be winnable and John Woodcock is in a category of one. Let’s credit all of these to the Prime Minister: she’s going to need them. That makes 215.

From here, the going gets harder.

Conservative unreconciled Remainers

These attract a lot of hostility from others in their party, but in truth they are a side issue. Just eight Conservative MPs have said that they would oppose the deal and seek a people’s vote.

Conservative hardline Leavers

That’s a large part of Theresa May’s problem right there. There are nearly 100 Conservative MPs who are publicly opposed to the deal as not being Brexity enough. They have done so in strident terms. Some, including Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, have described it as being worse than remaining in the EU. This makes it very difficult for them to backtrack on their opposition because what rationale could they give?

Quite a few of these MPs are entirely comfortable with the idea of no-deal Brexit and have said so. They will need to be given a compelling reason for backtracking on their opposition. Right now they believe that they can secure no-deal Brexit simply by opposing. Theresa May is going to have to change their minds.

As Sam Coates of the Times has noted, it’s very hard to see the number opposed ever dropping below 35, being the number who had publicly declared they had no confidence in Theresa May plus those who had resigned to oppose the deal. Personally, I’d double that number based on the public statements made. A lot of unwise words would have to be eaten. If the deal is still not going to pass, what’s the point of humiliating yourself?

Even if Theresa May manages to shepherd all of the Conservative MPs behind her, which right now looks like a complete fantasy, she still needs to get support, or at the least abstentions, from elsewhere. What are her options?


These 10 MPs make even less promising targets than Conservative Leavers. While they would prefer to leave the EU, the deal drives a wedge between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that they find more unacceptable. Not only is no deal better than this deal for them, remaining in the EU would be better too.

Labour loyalists

The official opposition is officially opposed to the deal. Labour have a five stage policy of opposition on Brexit, not one of which involves giving Theresa May’s deal any succour at all. Could Labour nevertheless be persuaded to support the deal, or at least to abstain, rather than see Britain leave without a deal? Jeremy Corbyn would seem to lack any motivation for such a course of action for as long as he could blame the resulting mess on the Conservatives. Theresa May will hope that some of his supporters break ranks.

Labour pro-Europeans and Lib Dems

Both of these groups are opposed to the deal on the basis that a referendum would be preferable to exiting on this deal. However, they might well prefer that Britain leaves in an orderly way to seeing it leave chaotically.

There are just 11 Lib Dem MPs, now that Stephen Lloyd has resigned the whip. It is unclear how many Labour MPs there are who would prioritise an orderly Brexit over following the party line.

While Labour members are opposed to no-deal, they are also opposed to the deal itself – they want a fresh referendum so that Britain can remain in the EU. So while I can imagine quite a lot of Labour MPs defying their leadership in the right circumstances to secure a fresh referendum, few are likely to feel impelled to support Theresa May’s deal or even abstain. Her challenge is to work out if and if so how this number can be maximised.

Labour Leavers

There aren’t actually that many of these, maybe eight or so now. They have no reason not to follow Jeremy Corbyn’s line.


The SNP are opposed to Brexit and want a fresh referendum. They are also opposed to no-deal Brexit. The SNP, however, are almost pathologically opposed to the idea of ever being labelled tartan Tories, so it is hard to imagine them ever backing the deal. In all likelihood, the best that Theresa May can hope for is a mass abstention. Even that looks fairly unlikely.

I would expect Plaid Cymru and the Greens to take the same line as the SNP ultimately. So this is a bloc of 40 MPs.


It all looks grim for Theresa May’s deal. She essentially has three possible ways of getting it through – uniting a Leave bloc behind it, uniting a Remain bloc behind it or getting enough dissident Leavers on board and the acquiescence of enough Remainers to scramble home. Right now she is losing heavily among both Leavers and Remainers. Leaver MPs in particular have backed themselves into a corner and a lot of them are going to need more than a cosmetic change to the deal to be able to change their minds with dignity.  

So Theresa May’s best, though poor, chance of salvaging her deal looks to be by getting the acquiescence of substantial numbers of Remainers outsider her party. However, all her efforts seem to be being put into what looks like the futile task of placating Leavers. She clearly needs to produce a rabbit from a hat. But right now she seems to be looking in the wrong hat.

Alastair Meeks


Matters of confidence. What to expect if the government loses a vote of no confidence

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Care to make it interesting? As if politics wasn’t already volatile enough, the government faces the persistent threat of a vote of no confidence. Jeremy Corbyn made a complete ass of himself and several of his most senior colleagues before the Christmas break with an on-off-on-again-off-again vote of no confidence, but he will have other opportunities.

The current government is a minority government, kept in power through the offices of the DUP. Right now, however, the DUP are not happy. They loathe the proposed deal and are making ominous noises. So far those fall short of agreeing to support a vote of no confidence but that might change. Some of the Conservative hardline Brexiters might not be unhappy at that prospect either.  

Equally, some of the more fervent Europhile Conservative MPs might consider their options if Britain looks definitively to be heading for no deal. The government is undeniably vulnerable.

What happens if the government loses such a vote? A clock starts ticking. Either another government succeeds in getting a vote of confidence past the House of Commons in 14 days or there will be a general election.

Yes that’s all well and good, but who gets to choose? The single most important thing to realise is that Theresa May does not necessarily need to step down immediately. Precedent isn’t much help – there have been just three votes of no confidence in the last 100 years and only one since the Second World War.

In the past, votes of no confidence have led to swift changes of government or dissolutions of Parliament. However, even then, the government did not need to step down immediately. In 1979, Parliament was not dissolved for another week, Now the matter is set out by statute, so Theresa May can argue that she can stay in situ and let everyone explore the alternatives in the time available.

With that in mind, Theresa May could seek to hold office in the very short term to allow effective exploration of the options. (She might even try herself. As leader of the party with the most seats and the incumbent, she would have the authority to do this. Ted Heath and Gordon Brown both exercised their right as incumbent to seek to form a government for some time despite being only the second party in Parliament. Theresa May’s claim to continue to seek to do so would be comparable to either of theirs.)

If she did, she would not be the only one trying.  If this kicked off in January, there could be at least six camps. As well as Theresa May, there would be Conservative loyalists seeking to establish whether the majority could be reconstructed simply by replacing her. There would be hardline Leavers looking to establish a no-deal government. Jeremy Corbyn would be looking to form a Labour minority government. There would be unreconciled Remainers looking to relitigate the 2016 referendum. And there would be some MPs who would simply want the general election straight away. Perhaps there would be other camps.

These groups would overlap and different MPs would have different second and third preferences. Institutionally the two main party leaders would have strong advantages because they are entitled to call on the loyalty of their nominal Parliamentary supporters. In practice both would struggle more than usual. Theresa May has already had a visible demonstration of the lack of confidence of over a third of her MPs. Jeremy Corbyn could only wish for such levels of loyalty.

Let’s return to the single most important thing. Theresa May does not need to step down. If no other candidate in her judgement looks likely to command a majority she could in theory try to see the clock tick down and proceed to a general election. Theresa May has always used time as a weapon. She might do so again.

In practice my assessment of Theresa May, a woman who appears to feel her duty keenly, is that if she could not form a government she would not stand in the way of a candidate who stood a fair chance. It would be her responsibility as Prime Minister to advise the Queen on who she should call for next. I expect she would do so according to her best assessment of the lay of the land. As an instinctive conservative, she would want to help the monarchy as best she could.

Theresa May could not be expected to hurry to that point though: she never has believed in hurrying. It would not help Jeremy Corbyn if the time established that he was not going to able to command a majority: as she is a Conservative as well as a conservative, this would be a welcome effect for her.

Conversely, extra time might help the unreconciled Remainers whose support spans four or more parties in identifying a potential candidate to lead them and a prospectus to sell to possible supporters. The experience of the 2016 Labour leadership challenge is that on the Labour side at least those MPs are poorly organised when time is of the essence. They chose a weak candidate by a shambolic process who was comfortably defeated – perhaps they have planned better this time around but candidly I doubt it.   

This is perhaps their biggest obstacle – if they are to persuade foot soldiers of the two main parties to work with them, they are going to need to offer someone who they will feel good about getting behind even on a limited prospectus. The problem is easier to identify than the solution.

The party hierarchies would have time to issue such threats as they thought would be effective. We would soon find out what was left of party discipline. With the stakes so high, my guess is that both parties would find their structures under severe strain.

A lot of briefing and disinformation would be done through the media during this period. For that reason, we should consider now what different groupings really want or would settle for. For example, what would the DUP like best? My guess is that they would be very happy to have another general election to see the clock tick down on a no-deal Brexit and will vote accordingly – some of the hardline Leave Conservative MPs might well try to do the same thing.  

What about the SNP?  They have a hard call to make – do they seek to support Jeremy Corbyn as the rope supports the hanged man, do they support a fresh referendum establishing the principle that generations can be very short indeed, or, like the DUP, do they also seek a general election with all the chaos that would produce? On balance I think they will look for a fresh referendum, but I might easily be wrong about that.

And what of the quiet pragmatic MPs in both main parties? Would they countenance an outcome that led to no deal Brexit? They would have a huge decision: would they throw in their lot with their party hierarchies and risk no-deal or would they seek a different outcome at the risk of their careers and their party loyalties?

Don’t forget the single most important thing, Theresa May’s role. She is not a chess piece, she has agency. If she is unable to form a government on her own terms, her own second or third preference might ultimately prove crucial. Might she ultimately offer herself as a temporary Prime Minister to effect a second referendum? It might solve several problems at once, while creating many more. What, ultimately, is her best alternative to a negotiated agreement in these circumstances?

It would be, I confess, utterly fascinating. The temptation to put pennies on the railway lines, just to see what would happen, must be enormous for deeply unhappy MPs. The risk of a train wreck would be huge. Buckle up.

Alastair Meeks


For your Christmas day entertainment Saturday Night Live on Theresa and Brexit

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018


My Christmas eve bet that TMay will still be PM at the end of next year

Monday, December 24th, 2018

Moggsy’s failed confidence move gives her 12 months immunity

On the day of this month’s confidence vote amongst Tory MPs on Theresa May the PM declared that it was her intention not to lead the party into the next general election. If we stick with the Fixed Term Parliament Act timetable that means any time before the spring of 2022.

That might have helped her in fending off Moggsy’s ill-judged move which also provided her with the additional bonus that under current Tory rules she is now immune from facing another confidence move until December next year.

    I have seen nothing that suggests that she is thinking of departing during 2019 even if the Brexit deal goes through and the UK leaves the EU as planned on March 29th. She appears to want to stay and she’s helped by there being no obvious successor.

What that exercise taught us is that it is very difficult removing a PM who is determined to hang on.

Yesterday the Sunday Times was reporting suggestions that she would like to continue until maybe a year or so before the next general election when she would step aside. The hope is to create opportunities in her cabinet for some new blood and potential successors.

All this makes the 68% Betfair betting exchange price on her going in 2019 as something of a bargain for a lay bet (wagering that it won’t happen). We have seen that amazing fortitude and resilience battling on when everything seems against her. I find it hard to envisage her going quietly after Brexit as many within the Conservative Party appeared to be hoping for.

There’s another factor which my guess is impacting on her thinking – she doesn’t want former Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson, to succeed her. The longer she say stays, you can see her reasoning, the worse his prospects become.

I’m on with Betfair wagering that she’ll still be there at the end of 2019 laying next year as her exit date at 1.48.

Mike Smithson


Which will happen first? TMay to step down as PM or the UK to leave the EU?

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

I rather like this betting market which asks which of the two events will happen first – Theresa May ceasing to be Prime Minister or the UK actually leaving the EU.

With uncertainties over both events this is quite a good match.

My guess as we get closer to the March 29th article 50 deadline that this will see a fair bit of activity and no doubt the leave EU price will move to the favourite slot if the Theresa May deal does in fact pass and the reverse if it doesn’t.

Punters on this option would also be a winner if the deal didn’t get through the commons but we carried on till March 29th and there was no deal.

On Theresa May’s job prospects there’s little doubt that they have been enhanced in the last few days after last week’s VONC amongst CON MPs and more confident performances in the Commons both at PMQs yesterday and on Monday reporting pack on the latest round of discussions in Brussels.

  • Chart showing Betfair exchange prices from
  • Mike Smithson


    With the DUP and Moggsy backing Theresa it looks as though LAB’s confidence move will fail

    Monday, December 17th, 2018

    Mike Smithson


    The magnificent resilience of TMay ploughing on relentlessly against all the odds

    Monday, December 17th, 2018

    And ordinary voters are beginning to give her credit

    The week before Christmas and the PM looks set to have another uphill task once again this afternoon facing yet again a marathon grilling by MPs after she reports on last week’s abortive mission to Brussels.

    Her position is very straightforward. The referendum outcome must be honoured but she has been determined to do it in a manner that causes the minimum of damage to the economy. The deal that she got in Brussels in November might not be ideal but, as we have seen, it is the best there is and Mrs May is determined to go on trying to win agreement for it.

    Chances of success look pretty thin but the strategy has always seemed to be that when faced with the huge problems of a No Deal then what she has got might be seen as a better alternative. The numbers don’t stack up that much but she is sticking with her strategy.

    The one bit of positive news is that she is starting to get some recognition from ordinary voters and that might help her along the way. This was from the latest Opinium Poll

    Almost half (47%) of voters now see Theresa May has brave, up from 43% in October. Similarly, 41% now see the prime minister as decisive, the highest since the election last year.

    47% now also see Theresa May as someone that sticks to their principles, the highest figure recorded for her, even from before the general election.

    She’s helped by the fact that her biggest opponents, the ERG gang and Corbyn have yet to come up with a convincing alternative.

    Rees-Mogg did himself no good in the aftermath of Wednesday’s confidence vote when he went on television saying he did not accept the result and that Mrs May should quit anyway. Arch Brexiteer, Nadine Dorries, showed more class with her tweet saying that she respected the result.

    What looks to be Corbyn’s biggest mistake was not to move a Commons confidence vote in the aftermath of the government’s triple defeats earlier in the month and other opposition parties are trolling the LAB leader on this.

    Meanwhile the betting markets make it 62% chance that the UK won’t leave the EU on March 29th.

  • The Theresa May portrait above is by my daughter-in-law, Lucille Smithson, a figurative realist British painter based in Los Angeles.
  • .

    Mike Smithson


    Theresa May’s next move

    Sunday, December 16th, 2018


    Theresa May’s great political skill, the driving force behind her career, has been the ability to keep her head down. The virtue of ducking out of the firing line is an important one in British politics. When promotion often comes through dead man’s shoes there is a delicate art to making sure others get hit by the flak, of walking through the food fight and coming out only mildly custard-stained. When the other leading figures in your party destroy themselves, and/or each other in ever more convoluted ways it can even get you all the way to being Prime Minister.

    Which is where she is, holding a far more important, prestigious, and difficult job than this humble writer will ever hold (tread softly on my dreams commenters, especially regarding my commas), while facing down the traditional bane of Conservative leaders, infighting over Europe.

    May’s recent victory (there’s an unusual start to a sentence) has confirmed her as the least unpopular of the possible options. Which, given the possible alternatives, is an achievement that ranks somewhere alongside being acclaimed as the party’s favourite STI (decide for yourselves which one matches each candidate).

    It also means she can’t be challenged for a full year, which now seems an unimaginably long period at a time when new disasters come along so often that click-hunting headline writers have to find ways to communicate that this story is actually about a new shambolic crisis and not the one you read about half an hour ago.

    The price for this was a promise not to lead the party into the next general election, which really is up there with a turkey making new year’s resolutions. In the event of a snap election they’re hardly going to hold a leadership election (and there isn’t exactly an obvious, consensus, successor) and I don’t think many were expecting her to make it to a hypothetical 2022 election.

    So having survived the internal rebellion (and I’m sure the ERG will now fall in line as model supporters) she simply has to retain the official confidence of Parliament with a Brexit vote due in January. Nicola Sturgeon, Vince Cable, et al have started a fun Christmas twitter game of baiting Jeremy Corbyn about calling a vote of no confidence (while avoiding the suggestion they could do it themselves and dare Corbyn not to fall in line).

    Corbyn has been very reluctant to do so, probably because he is worried that he doesn’t have the votes and his failure would only strengthen May. The idea that Corbyn would be happier to see May push through a Brexit deal and take the associated blame rather than have to deal with the same policy and party problems himself is of course baseless speculation that I almost totally believe.

    Which leads to my advice to Theresa May. Do what your opponent wants least, force a vote of confidence now. Dare the ERG to bring a Tory government down, let the DUP stare at Corbyn and decide if they’d really prefer him as Prime Minister. This is the closest to riding high you’re going to get so use the opportunity. If you wait for one of your opponents then it will be called at one of the many weak moments to come, stretching your premiership only makes its end more certainly soon.

    Break the habit of a political lifetime and force the battle on your terms, you might just win.


    P.S. If you lose and push the problems of pushing through Brexit into Corbyn’s lap it’s probably the best thing you can do for the long term prospects of the Conservative party. Might even help your legacy.