Unity is the buzzword in the Conservative party this week. With a series of crunch votes due on Tuesday and Wednesday over the EU withdrawal bill, senior Tories have been at pains to tell unruly colleagues it’s time to put their differences aside and come together. Over the weekend, Amber Rudd and ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith warned that any Commons rebellions would be a win for Labour – and therefore bring Corbyn closer to entering No 10. It was a message echoed by David Lidington on the Andrew Marr show.
No 10 are increasingly confident that this new comradely spirit will prove contagious. Within government, concerns have eased over the two most troublesome votes: the customs union amendment and the meaningful vote amendment. The former is seen as the least problematic as even if Theresa May were to lose it, it’s not clear how it would tie the government’s hands. The meaningful vote amendment is trickier to dismiss – but government figures hope the new promise of a 28 day period within which the Government must respond if the House does not support the final deal will help win some rebels round.
That’s not to say May is out of the woods. Serial Remain rebel Ken Clarke has made clear that he will vote against his party – and Antoinette Sandbach has helpfully been tweeting articles about Remainers going in for the kill. Ultimately it will come down to the wire and events between now and then may change the mood.
What works in May’s favour, however, is that even if she were to lose one of the votes, it’s not clear that it would be fatal to her premiership. Although the mood within the Conservative party is at a low and many are losing faith in the government’s negotiating tactic, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for May to go – let alone an early election. There remains no preferred candidate that a majority of Tories can agree on. The Boris Johnson leak last week has wounded the Foreign Secretary and while support is growing for Sajid Javid to do anything now would be seen as premature.
The majority of Tory MPs seem to have reluctantly agreed that they are stuck with May for the foreseeable. Speaking on Ridge on Sunday, Grant Shapps appeared a changed man. The Conservative MP who previously attempted to oust May after that conference speech, said that he expected the Prime Minister to stay in place until 2020 at the earliest in order to complete the Brexit negotiations. He went so far as to give her a 30pc change of fighting and winning the next election. While Shapps is probably still in the minority of MPs on May 2022 (which isn’t as unlikely as you think), he is in the majority when it comes to concluding that she is still the least worst option.