Is this the week Theresa May sets out an exit date for her departure from No. 10? There is hope in government that this will be the week the Prime Minister passes her Brexit deal. However, the price of her doing so could include a promise to resign before the second stage of negotiations begin later this year.
No. 10 are working to try and ensure May passes her deal before this week’s EU council meeting where she has to try and seek an Article 50 extension. In a bid to try and do this, ministers have been locked in talks with the DUP all weekend on what could be done to make the deal palatable to them. The package discussed is expected to include new legislation being brought forward which would say Northern Island would stay in step with the rest of the United Kingdom while in the backstop.
Theresa May needs 75 MPs to change their vote and back her deal in order to pass the Withdrawal Agreement. Should the DUP give the government the green light, more Brexiteers are expected to come around to the deal – then a handful of Labour MPs could step in and help get it over the line. Already a string of eurosceptics have said they will change their vote and back it when if it returns for a third time. Esther McVey is among them – while Vote Leave’s Matthew Elliott has used a piece in the Sunday Times to say ‘it’s Theresa May’s Brexit deal or nothing’ so MPs ought to back it. Not everyone is convinced – Boris Johnson has used his Telegraph column to say now is not the time for surrender and May should seek more changes to the backstop.
No. 10 believe there are around 25 Tory Eurosceptics who will never back the deal. They are working to try and win around the rest of them. The price of support for many of the remaining MPs is linked to her position. Tory Whips report that a pledge to step down before the second phase of the Brexit negotiations begins is crucial to getting some of the more hardcore Eurosceptics on side. It’s also something that’s been raised by Brexiteers in meetings with Downing Street. The theory goes that if a Leave MP was at the helm for the subsequent trade talks, the government would fare better in achieving a clean Brexit. MPs worry that without such a pledge, May will enjoy a victory after passing her deal and try to stay on for the foreseeable.
There is a lot of resentment from backbenchers at May for letting it reach this point. Even if the deal passes, there will be little in the way of celebration. May’s allies admit the game is up. Her former adviser Tom Swarbrick said on Friday that he reluctantly agreed it was time ‘that this Prime Minister looks at her time in office because I’m not sure she is the right person to bring this back together’. Even Philip Hammond refused to give a straight answer when pressed on the Prime Minister’s future on Marr. A number of Brexiteers publicly called for May to consider her position this weekend – with Esther McVey saying the Prime Minister deserves a ‘dignified exit’.
It follows that if things go to plan for the government this week and it looks as though May could pass her deal – it could also spell the beginning of the end for her premiership.