The government is facing a defeat on the Budget. But rather than a Brexit showdown or the DUP pulling the rug from under Theresa May’s feet over the rumoured backstop, the issue is a domestic one. After Tracey Crouch resigned from government over the decision to seemingly delay reducing the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) by six months, more than 20 Tory MPs – including Remain MPs and Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg – and all 10 DUP MPs have signed an amendment demanding the new maximum stake be brought forward.
The vote is scheduled for next week. While the government would currently lose that vote – no-one expects it to get that far with a climbdown expected in the next few days. Theresa May and her ministers have been accused of listening to corporate interests and MPs with registered interests in the gambling industry. The treasury insist that the timescale is needed to allow the gambling industry to adjust to the new rules but cynics say this is simple about bringing about extra revenue.
It’s a tricky issue for the government as on the surface reducing gambling stakes – which have been linked to numerous suicides – chimes with May’s so-called burning injustices agenda. And there in lies the problem. While there are some who contend the stake should not be reduced from £100 to £2 on the grounds that it limits choice on the grounds of wealth, the government is not making this argument and has not plans to. Theresa May has already conceded the argument made by Tracey Crouch and others that FOBTs as they currently exist are a blight on society. It follows that it gets quite difficult for May to justify the decision to keep something she and her ministers have said is bad in existence for a longer period of time than it needs to.
It’s clear from speaking to MPs who have signed the amendment that they have no plans to back down on this for these reasons. What’s more, they believe the government is in a weak enough position with Brexit and the small matter of no majority that this is not the hill May’s government will choose to die on. With a climbdown expected shortly: what was the point of letting Crouch go in the first place?