Theresa May is continuing her efforts today to persuade Tory MPs to back her Brexit deal. It is clear that she is not going to get Commons approval for that deal on Tuesday, and is too late to drop it beforehand without another vote. What’s unclear is whether the Prime Minister is actually making the situation any better.
The tally of Tory MPs who have declared in public that they will vote against the deal isn’t falling, but rising, even as backbenchers are summoned into meetings in Number 10 and the Prime Minister appears in the Commons dining rooms to try to sweet talk her party.
A recurring theme among MPs I’ve been speaking to is that the Prime Minister still isn’t listening to their concerns, merely thinking that having a meeting will be good enough, and that the whips have been offering pork barrel and patronage when this issue is too big for such things, even for those MPs who are usually dazzled by such baubles.
The way May is approaching this vote shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who clashed with her as Home Secretary. She would frequently hold meetings with Dominic Raab, for instance, only for the then backbencher to announce that he was going to lead a rebellion against her policies. He respected the minister for taking the time to meet him, but she didn’t listen, which led to the rebellion. The same has been the case recently, with MPs telling the Prime Minister that they do have the greatest personal respect for her, but that they can’t back the deal. Her retort has been that everyone is producing this line about respecting her – but she tries to use this as a point for persuading the MP in front of her to change their mind, rather than reflecting on whether she needs to change hers.
This stubbornness has of course contributed to the breakdown in trust between May and the DUP, who last night announced that they would support the government in a no confidence motion if the withdrawal agreement is voted down. This is far more persuasive to those MPs who really want changes to the deal but do not want an election. It is no coincidence that this announcement followed a meeting between DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds and the European Research Group’s Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker. The ERG, which hasn’t been spectacularly impressive in its political manoeuvrings over the past few weeks, now has a very effective whipping line, and one that even a Theresa May in true listening mode will find hard to counter.