One of the more surreal moments of Theresa May’s day so far has been the Prime Minister having to break off from the meltdown of her party to join Prince Charles’s birthday celebrations at Buckingham Palace. The Prime Minister can’t have felt particularly like waving a champagne flute around to salute the heir to the throne while her own MPs plot to remove her crown as Tory leader.
The announcement from Jacob Rees-Mogg that he is submitting a letter calling for a vote of no confidence suggests that the European Research Group believes there are the numbers in the wider Conservative Party for May to lose that vote. I wrote about why this was a few weeks ago: there are a number of MPs, including ministers, who are not particularly passionate about Brexit but who are unimpressed with the Prime Minister to the extent that they – at the very least – cannot say if they would back her in a vote of no confidence.
We are seeing the beginnings of this private dissatisfaction spilling into the public realm with moderately-minded backbench MPs announcing that they cannot support the draft agreement that May has unveiled. This is of course not the same as voting against her leadership, but there is clearly a swell of dissent which will be very difficult for May to stem.
Of course, if the ERG has predicated its push for a no confidence vote on there being a large number of swing voters in the parliamentary Conservative Party, then there is still a chance the Prime Minister can try to talk round those whose hand would hover over the ballot paper. But her party management up to this point suggests that May would not make the most of this opportunity. MPs have been bewildered and offended by the way they’ve been treated by Number 10 in briefings running up to the agreement, with groups only getting to see aides rather than the Prime Minister herself, and bizarre mixes of backbenchers who have very diverse views on Brexit. There’s quite a lot that May needs to change before she can feel at all confident about a vote of no confidence.