Will Theresa May face a vote of no confidence? Graham Brady has been touring the studios over the weekend making it clear that the full 48 letters required to trigger such a vote are yet to be received. That’s not to say it won’t happen in the near future – there’s plenty that could happen in the next week to irk MPs further – though European Research Group members seem a little down-hearted by the slow pace to proceedings.
The problem is Tory Brexiteers are not united when it comes to a response to May’s EU withdrawal agreement. There are a small number of Tory Leave MPs who actually support it – Andrew Percy, Steve Barclay, Kwasi Kwarteng among them. Then there is a much larger group of Tory Brexiteers who dislike the deal – ranging from Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Steve Baker right through to Michael Gove and Graham Brady. These MPs may be able to agree that the divorce deal is flawed but that doesn’t mean they can agree on what to do about it.
Steve Baker – the former Brexit minister – is leading ERG efforts to try and bring about a confidence vote in May and pave the way for a Brexiteer leader. Around 25 Brexiteer MPs have gone public to say they have submitted their letter to achieve this.
However, there is a split with a loyal Brexit deal opposition group forming. Appearing on the Andrew Marr show, Dominic Raab said that despite resigning as Brexit secretary over the deal, he had no plans to submit a letter, thought such moves were a distraction and would vote for May in any confidence vote. Michael Gove – who is known to have reservations about the deal despite remaining in the cabinet – has made similar soundings. They both hope to get May to change aspects of the deal – rather than move against her. On Monday morning, remaining Cabinet Brexiteers are meeting to try and come up with a plan to change parts of it.
It’s worth remembering that this sounds an awful lot like the old European Research Group stance on May’s Brexit plans: the problem was the policy, not the person. Just as ERG members slowly came to the conclusion that May was the problem, Brexiteers like Raab will eventually need to make a decision. If the Prime Minister has no plans to change the deal and refuses to do so, will she become the problem or will the ‘loyal opposition’ roll over?