Will Theresa May face a no-confidence vote?

Theresa May

Theresa May holds a press conference inside 10 Downing Street. Image: Getty

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Many Brexiteer MPs thought Theresa May would be facing a vote of no-confidence by now. 

Their briefing last week heightened expectations to astronomical levels, and one source told me "She'll be gone by the end of the day". That was on Friday.

Now the political wreckage of the failed coup is strewn across SW1, and - to put it mildly - that is an embarrassment to European Research Group MPs.

When Jacob Rees-Mogg stood on the steps of Parliament to announce he had submitted his letter of no-confidence, it seemed that the threat to Mrs May was immediate. 



Steve Baker, a highly influential ERG figure and former DExEU minister, was busily mobilising the Brexit backbench caucus. 

When Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, went to meet the Prime Minister in her Parliamentary office on Friday, fever levels in Westminster spiked off the chart.

But the would-be coup stalled over the weekend.


Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks to the media after submitting a letter of no confidence in Prime Minister. Image: Getty


So far, 23 MPs have confirmed that they have sent in letters. There could be more in Sir Graham Brady's sealed safe. 

That's enough for Number 10 to consider the rebels a serious threat: only one man knows how close they are to the necessary 48 letters which will trigger a vote.

Although an increasing number of Tory backbenchers express their concerns about Mrs May's deal in interviews and privately, there has yet been no announcement of such a vote.


Is the Prime Minister safe?

Theresa May speaks at the 2018 CBI conference. Image: Getty


So is the Prime Minister safe? And if so, for how long?

Sources close to influential Brexiteers are telling me they still think Theresa May will face a no-confidence vote in the Commons before Christmas. 

They believe that a substantial rebellion against her - even if she were to win and remain Prime Minister - would write off her chances of leading the Tories into the next election. 

They believe a rump of disaffected MPs will be emboldened by the failure of the coup so far - and that letters will continue to drip in as a form of attrition warfare against Number 10.



But a winning a no-confidence vote would also insure the Prime Minister against further challenge for another year - so it's not entirely clear how this political strategy stacks up. 

Others in the ERG believe the opportune moment has now passed. 

"We're f****d, the country's f****d," said one furious Brexit-backing MP. 

Other voices are looking to apportion blame.


'Letter writing clusterf***k'

“The letter writing clusterf**k is all to do with ex-cabinet ministers holding Baker in contempt. He is a self-promoter, sanctimonious and we wish he’d do less talking," said one Brexit source.

To some extent, Theresa May's fate now rests with the extent to which her detractors will now rip themselves apart with infighting - or remain relatively cohesive (although to say they have ever been united would be much too strong).

There are flashpoints which could trigger further letters.



How the Government plans to handle the meaningful vote in December will be an issue of huge concern for potential rebels.

It is possible that as well as voting against the government whip, angry Brexit-backing MPs could use that opportunity to submit letters of no-confidence.

The levels of dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister are probably more transparently higher than they have ever been on the Tory backbenches.

Many MPs have gripes that are nothing to do with Brexit, and the government will be nervous about handling them in the coming days.


Parliamentary headache

DUP leader Arlene Foster, and deputy Nigel Dodds. Image: Getty


Meanwhile, DUP support seems to threaten to fall away, with the party refusing to vote with the government on the Finance Bill last night.

For the Prime Minister, the political headaches are now turning into Parliamentary headaches.



The crucible of the House of Commons chamber will become the focus for dissent, detraction and division in the coming days.

The Brexiteers' coup may find new life there - where the magic number is not 48, but 318 - the majority in the House needed to pass May's deal.