Brexit and surviving Mrs Maybe

Robert Henderson

The shamelessly   anti-democratic remainers are queuing up to cheat the British electorate of Brexit. Those in the media and the likes of Gina Miller  shriek that a hard Brexit is dead and it is already  reported that remainer MPs from both the Tory and Labour parties are plotting to overturn  Brexit and Theresa May knows about it but does nothing.  May’s Chancellor Philip Hammond openly defies her on Brexit by saying that no deal with the EU would be a “very bad outcome”.

In Scotland the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon beats the same drum and the leader of the Tories in Scotland Ruth Davidson talks of legally detaching the Scottish Conservatives  from  the UK  Party whilst  insisting that a hard Brexit should be watered down and stating baldly that  the  13 MPs from Scotland who are now sitting in the Commons should vote according to their consciences not to the dictates of Tory Party whip.

There is also another possible legal challenge brewing with a  claim that the Act passed to allow the letter to be sent to the EU triggering Article 50 did not such thing because it did not  address the question of the legality of the UK leaving the EU.

More immediately worrying  is the proposed supply and confidence arrangement   with the Democratic Unionists (DUP)  of Northern Ireland  and the  concessions the  DUP will insist on and the knock-on effects with Scotland and Wales which will undoubtedly want  for themselves  whatever  the DUP gets or something of similar political value.    The terms of the arrangement have yet to be agreed,  but we can be sure that the DUP will insist on not having a hard border between the  Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland . Anything other than a hard border would utterly undermine one of the primary objects of Brexit, namely, control of the UK’s borders.  Nor is it certain that any deal will be made.

All in all a very pretty political mess with no risk free way of escaping.  Calling another election soon  would probably   result in  a Labour win or at least a Labour led coalition government.  At best it is unlikely that it would leave  the Tories in a better position than they are in.  Moreover, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is still in place. To call an election before the end of the five year Parliament stipulated in the Act  requires a two-thirds majority of   the  full complement of MPs  (currently 650) whether  or not a constituency has an MP at the time of voting or whether an MP abstains.   In short at least 417 MPs  must vote for an election.   There is a good chance that neither  the Parties with seats  in the Commons nor many individual MPs with smallish majorities would want another election soon: the Parties because of the cost (if an election was held this year it would mean  funding three elections in two years) and   individual MPs for  the fear of losing their seats.

There is one way the Tories might be able to cut this Gordian knot because  they are so close to a majority in the Commons the Government is in a much stronger position than might be thought  from the media and general political  response following the failure of May to gain a majority .  May  or a successor could  try governing  without a majority.

The  number of MPs  needed for a Commons majority is pedantically 326. But this is misleading because the  seven Sinn Fein MPs will not  take their seats as a matter of principle (they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown)and the Speaker only votes in the event of a tie (when by convention he votes for the status quo). Hence, the figure in practice for a Commons majority is  322. This means the Tories are a  mere 4 MPs short of a majority.

The Tories  could probably govern as a minority government without any support most of the time, because any defeat of  government legislation would require almost every non-Tory MP  to vote against the government. That is not easy to organise day in day out, week in week out.  Moreover, it is most unlikely that MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would want to hold up many of the  money Bills because that would mean their countries  would not get their  part of the money .  In addition, it is likely that the DUP would support the Tories on most occasions simply because they agreed with Tory policies and for the fear of something worse, that is, a Corbyn government. .

The main danger for the Tories  would be a  vote for a motion of No Confidence.   But it would not be easy to marshal the disparate MPs who make up the opposition.  It is possible that some Tories might abstain or even vote against on individual Tory policies , but improbable  that they would vote for a motion of No Confidence.

It is conceivable that a few  Tory remainers might cross the floor of the House of Commons and join a Corbyn  government. This idea  is unlikely  but  not absurd because Brexit is one of those rare defining issues which could cause remainer  Tory MPs to defect.  More probable would  be Tory remainers being willing to vote on  Bills put forward  by a Corbyn government which relate to Brexit.

But let us assume that a motion of No Confidence was passed, what then?  Could Corbyn form a government with a majority? He might well struggle because he  would have to take all the Ulster  Unionist MPs with him. Given Corbyn’s  record of  enthusiastically consorting with Irish Republicans of dubious provenance  it is unlikely he would be able to bring them on board even on the basis of confidence and supply. But even if he could cobble together a government of all MPs other than Tory ones,  it would be hopelessly  unstable because of the vast  spread of political opinions it would have to encompass and the fact that the Labour Party is nowhere near to being able to form a government on its own.   The proposed hook-up between the Tories and the DUP has a much better chance of surviving.

It is possible that no government could be formed which could command  the confidence of the Commons. That would create an interesting constitutional problem because the Fixed Term Parliaments Act  would mean that Parliament could not be dissolved unless two thirds of the Commons voted for it. That would mean that any new election could not be painted as the responsibility of the Tory Party as many MPs other than Tory ones would have to vote for it. That would remove part of the toxicity  of an early election for the Tories.

If May (or a Tory successor) could get through another 18  months in power that might be enough for the public to turn against Corbyn and/or simply get bored with his antics and those of the likes of McDonnell. It would also allow enough to time get the negotiations  for Brexit so well entrenched that it would be difficult to overturn them even if a different government took office. The fly in the ointment is of course the likely attempts at betrayal by the present Government or any successor government  headed by a Tory other than Theresa May.

If the Tory government does survive it must operate  for the foreseeable political future on the basis that Brexit comes before everything else apart from maintaining  the functions of the state and civil order. Any legislation in policy areas other than Brexit which is contentious should be shelved until Brexit is completed.

There must also be red lines drawn. One of the primary problems with May was her refusal or inability to spell out what she would and would not accept when negotiating with the EU.  The government whether led by May or someone else must make clear the following:

That there is no hard and soft Brexit there is simply Brexit

That the UK will leave the single  market.

That the UK will leave the customs union .

That the UK will have full control over her borders for people, goods and services.

That the UK will have full control of her territorial waters including those relating to the 200 mile limit.

That after leaving the UK will not be subject to the European Court of Justice or any other judicial body  linked to the EU or the EEA.

That the UK will not pay any leaving fee.

That the UK will be paid a proportionate share of the EU’s assets.

That would both reassure the majority who voted of Brexit and make any backsliding by the government very difficult.

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5 Responses to Brexit and surviving Mrs Maybe

  1. david brown says:

    Interesting comment by Telegraph reader Richard Palmer he thinks May had a Machiavellian plan with her remainer Chancellor Hammond to push for a softer Brexit. She needed a bigger majority to push this hence her election gamble .

    • francis says:

      Even if a Corbyn led Labour government took power there is no way Brexit can be stopped. However Labour’s Brexit strategy would be the soft option with an open border, superior rights for EU nationals and governed by EU law via the European Court of Justice.

      Anyway who are those 3.5 million EU nationals? Indigenous French, Germans etc or are they non white naturalised EU nationals?

  2. margaret Robinson says:

    What can T May do What should she do. is there anything the brexiteers can do.

  3. paderb says:

    Hello Robert,
    I don’t know if you have read Gerard Batten’s UKIP Plan for exiting the EU. I am not in any way affiliated with UKIP, but I do have a lot of respect for Gerard Batten.

    In reply to an email that I sent him concerning the spurious claim that there will be long delays at border crossings when both Britain and the EU are signatories to the TIR Convention (which he is investigating), he also included a copy of the Brexit Plan.

    I have no way of attaching the plan to these comments, all I can do is send a link to an article on my site with a download link to the document. (

    Please feel free to delete this post if it offends your blog policy.

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