Here’s why Brexiters can’t kick May out

by Hugo Dixon | 21.05.2018

Hardline Tory MPs are so furious that the prime minister is making one capitulation after another in the Brexit talks that they are threatening a vote of no confidence to trigger a general election. That, at least, is the story in yesterday’s Sunday Times. 

It is telling that no MP has gone public with this threat. That is not surprising, because it is all bluff: the hardliners have no realistic way to get shot of Theresa May. 

To understand why, it is necessary to distinguish between two different votes of no confidence: one within the Conservative Party; the other within Parliament as a whole. 

The most obvious way for unhappy Tory MPs to kick out the prime minister would be to remove her as leader of their party. But unless she loses her nerve and resigns, they don’t have the numbers to do this. 

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True, Jacob Rees-Mogg and his band of hard Brexiters can almost certainly rustle up the 15% of Tory MPs needed to “trigger” a vote of no confidence. They have to get only 48 to sign the letter. But they would need a majority (159 at the last count) to “win” such a vote, and they aren’t even close to getting that – especially now moderate former cabinet ministers are organising a group to face down the extremists.

Unless the rebels win a vote of confidence, there will be no leadership contest. The full Conservative Party leadership rules are published here. (See Vote of Confidence, Clause 6).

What about triggering a vote of confidence against the government in the House of Commons? The Rees-Mogg clique has the numbers to do that if it teams up with Labour. But would they really go into the lobby with Jeremy Corbyn to bring down a Tory government? 

If they pressed that “nuclear button”, it would be tantamount to an open declaration of war, almost guaranteed to split their party in two. What chance would there then be of either Tory faction winning a subsequent election? 

The hard Brexiters might even fail to provoke a new election. That’s not because Corbyn would be able to form a government. Rather, given that we would be in the midst of a political crisis, a national unity government might be formed. Such a coalition might push for a soft Brexit or even ask the people whether they still wanted Brexit – hardly the stuff of Rees-Mogg’s dreams.

Like the big bad wolf in the story about the three little pigs, he can huff and puff, but he can’t blow May’s house down.

Edited by Quentin Peel

One Response to “Here’s why Brexiters can’t kick May out”

  • Good analysis. The Torygraph is full of retirees, huffing and puffing to get rid of her and put in Mogg, or they would never vote Tory again after a lifetime of it.
    It’s a vibe suggesting that deep down, even though they won, they they know they have lost.