The point is really very simple. Voters don’t follow the ins and outs of Brexit – indicative votes, customs arrangements, John Bercow’s rulings, and all that – but they have an unerring nose for smelling out politicians. The Prime Minister promised that we would leave on March 29 and we didn’t, they think. Ergo, we won’t vote for her. So two possible futures for the Conservatives now open up.
The first is that it is too late for a new leader. May’s stubborness in bringing back her deal for a third time; her refusal to face up to the Commons’ rejection of it; the attempt that has followed to strike a deal with a man she rightly denounces elsewhere as a menace to freedom – all that has poisoned the well for any successor. The week of March 15 was an ERM moment.
The second is that modern politics is extraordinary volatile. Consider the rise and fall of UKIP, the overthrow of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 election performance. So a new Conservative leader could turn events round, though he or she might well have to come from outside the Prime Minister’s Government altogether, and force an election sooner rather than later.
The first could be right. But the Conservative Party cannot presume so – and simply hand the future over to Corbyn and Nigel Farage. It has to work on the basis that the second might hold. It follows that the longer May remains Prime Minister, the deeper the damage to the Party and the country.
The 1922 Committee’s executive has a big decision to make this week. On Thursday, it will meet May to seek to extract a date for her depature. It should not be sentimental. Her hanging on might be attributed to a sense of duty. But to borrow the language that Robert Halfon used on this site last week, it is utterly selfish. Prime Ministers want to leave a legacy behind them. May clearly sees hers as the Withdrawal Agreement. But the Commons will not pass it as it stands.
It might do so, with or without Corbyn’s formal cooperation, were MPs to tack Customs Union membership on to it. But such a decision would force yet more resignations, were May to support it, and split the Conservative Party in half. However unpalatable it may be, the Committee must, if she refuses this week to go by the end of the summer, change the leadership challenge rules immediately – perhaps with a trigger ballot threshold of 40 per cent or so. We are well aware that the most painless course for them is to opt for mañana. But the wait for tomorrow risks marginalisation – even oblivion.
Leader – Fox or Paterson?
Fox gets no media as he’s good.
Despite a gloomy economic outlook for the UK post-Brexit, there are plenty of reasons for optimism, according to Liam Fox, the UK’s secretary of state for international trade. Appointed to the role in the wake of the country’s vote to leave the European Union, he has the mammoth task of securing trade deals with new markets while flying the flag for British exports overseas.
In August last year, he launched an ambitious Export Strategy as part of a plan to dial up the intensity of UK trade. Its central aim is to increase UK total exports as a proportion of GDP to 35%, up from around 30% currently, which would take the UK from the middle of the G7 to near the top.