Well, it finally happened. After a year of speculation about the always-just-below-48 letters, Conservative Party chairman Graham Brady has received the number required to trigger a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister, set for Wednesday evening and to be announced after 9pm.
Her fate is undetermined, but – depending on the result – this could have a real impact on the prospect of a Labour government in the immediate future.
If May loses:
If May loses the confidence vote a Conservative Party leadership election will be initiated. Expect a Brexiteer verses a born-again Brexiteer (formerly remain) final showdown.
This leadership election would tear the Conservative Party apart, pouring salt on the gaping wound of leave vs remain in the party. The resulting damage would make an election an unlikely risk but would seriously wound the party.
A victory by a true Brexiteer (the likely scenario) has potential to bring down the party, as some Conservative MPs have reportedly privately or publicly voiced desires to resign from the party under a Boris Johnson premiership – Anna Soubry being one. It is unlikely there would be enough of these newly independent MPs to support a Labour minority government, but the government’s majority would be reduced and several remaining Conservative remainers would likely turn into prolific backbench rebels if the party sought a hard Brexit.
This also raises the question of which sort of Brexit is actually acceptable for parliament. The withdrawal-agreement would almost certainly be scrapped and Article-50 extended to allow time for re-negotiation. A Canada-style deal favoured by Brexiteers is probably undeliverable due to the small but stubborn group of Tory remainers, while supporters of a Norway-style deal are unlikely to reach leadership positions.
Assuming a Canada-deal supporter is elected party leader. It is therefore not too much of a stretch to imagine them going to the country in an election to overcome parliamentary gridlock.
Equally, the new Prime Minister could experience a honeymoon period poll bounce – as May did – and opt for an election. But memories of the previous attempt make a positive move towards an election almost unthinkable, it will have to be a desperate last-resort measure.
- Summary – Election unlikely but not impossible, would be a last resort for a new struggling government. Labour would likely win any election in this scenario.
If May wins:
May winning the vote is probably the outcome Labour figures should be hoping for and the most likely scenario.
If May wins the confidence vote party rules state Tory MPs will be unable to challenge her again for 12 months. Presumably this will be unacceptable to hard Brexiteers who will have lost their last resort measure, and constant threat, of a devastating confidence vote.
Labour have recently faced unfair criticism from the SNP and Liberal Democrats for failing to initiate a no confidence vote in the government (which they themselves could initiate at any time). Labour’s reasoning is to wait for the most impactful time to initiate this vote – which would have been Tuesday night when the withdrawal agreement was set to be defeated.
With a confidence vote in May initiated by her own party shortly afterwards, clearly waiting was the correct move. If May survives the vote on her leadership, it is still highly unlikely she will be able to pass the withdrawal agreement. When she loses this vote as well, then DUP and Conservative rebels would have no way to remove her other than supporting a no confidence motion in the government. Another year of May’s leadership could be too much for some ERG figures to bear, but I would expect the DUP to be the real threat to the government in this scenario.
- Summary – Election more likely, becomes the only way to overcome gridlock and remove May. Labour win likely against increasingly weak and unpopular May.