If like me you’ve been scrolling through Twitter endlessly today, you might think the government is in the middle of collapsing. After David Davis and Steve Baker’s resignation just before midnight last night, and Boris Johnson following suit this afternoon, it’s easy to see why. After a supposed cabinet agreement was produced at Chequers last week, the two Brexit heavyweights decided that enough was enough, and left in protest to the governments swing towards a softer Brexit.
This afternoon in the commons May was defiant. She talked up her Chequers deal, and in a likely attempt to put an end to any further resignations reminded her party that we would be leaving the single market, customs union, and ending free movement of people into the country. Which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t match the message coined last week. As broken by Kevin Schofield a couple of hours ago, May and her team have also maintained that she will fight on regardless, and will take on any vote of no confidence put forward by the backbenches.
It’s hard to see why that wouldn’t be the case. Sure, the ERG and the backbenches have the numbers to put in their letters to Brady, but I highly doubt they have the numbers to win the vote. Many Tory MPs who currently sit on the fence know that a change in leader would lead to a leader in favour of no deal, and arguably could lead to Corbyn making his way into number 10. May also knows that if she does fend off the vote of no confidence party rules maintain she would be safe for a further 12 months, which would take us well into the transitional period of leaving the EU.
As I put forward in a piece late last year, Theresa May has always been merely a tool for the Tories as long as they need her. Whoever leads throughout the Brexit process will be tainted afterwards, and many leading Tory candidates will want to avoid this. May was, and still likely is, the person that will deliver Brexit, and would then likely resign or be forced out shortly after. Many colleagues would rather hold off and use the ‘Brexit betrayal’ line, and few Conservatives will want May anywhere near another general election after last year’s debacle.