With the Supreme Court ruling on the government’s Article 50 appeal not expected until the new year, Theresa May is facing a more immediate Brexit headache. After around 20 Conservative MPs were expected to back a Labour motion today — tabled by Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer — calling for the Prime Minister to ‘commit to publishing the government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked’, No. 10 has staved off the rebellion by agreeing to Labour’s demand.
Accepting Labour’s motion, ministers have added an amendment of their own — that the House should ‘respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March, 2017′. This is a change in tack for May — who has been reluctant to offer a running commentary, or any commentary at all on her Brexit plans. However, it’s unlikely she will now reveal her Brexit plan in great detail. Instead, MPs are expecting No.10 to outline its priorities and options that are being considered.
While some of the Tory MPs — such as Anna Soubry — who were expected to rebel are known critics of May, No. 10’s u-turn suggests the whips were not confident of stopping enough other MPs from joining them. What hasn’t helped May’s cause is her closed-off approach to both the court case and the Brexit negotiations. Her desire to run a tight ship has left several Tory MPs feeling sidelined and ignored. While MPs who have served for over 10 years complain that she has only deigned to speak to them on a handful of occasions, the new intake find that they have no chance to even form a relationship — where David Cameron used to go to the members’ tea room after PMQs for a powwow, May sees no such need.
Today’s change in approach could mark a change in May’s leadership style. The vast majority of MPs are not itching to vote down Article 50 but she will find that a little bit of TLC will go a long way when it comes to creating goodwill within her party. After all, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.