RIP THE TORY PARTY? 1834-2018

How rebel Con­ser­va­tive MPs risk de­stroy­ing the most suc­cess­ful political or­gan­i­sa­tion in his­tory

Daily Mail - - Countdown To Brexit D-day - PETER OBORNE

WHEN David Cameron an­nounced the Brexit ref­er­en­dum al­most six years ago, his main ob­jec­tive was to end, once and for all, Con­ser­va­tive Party di­vi­sions over Europe.

I’m afraid we never needed hind­sight to tell us that it was a cat­a­strophic mis­judg­ment. For Tory di­vi­sions over Europe seem in­sol­u­ble. It has now fallen to the em­bat­tled Theresa May to stop the Tories fall­ing apart.

Even if — and against all odds — the Com­mons votes in favour of her EU with­drawal deal on Tues­day, Tory wounds will con­tinue to fester.

But, much worse, if the PM is de­feated, the Con­ser­va­tive Party faces im­mi­nent civil war.

An or­gan­i­sa­tion which has been the most suc­cess­ful political party in the world since its foun­da­tion in 1834, may for­mally split — into a hard­line anti-EU group and a more pro-EU side.

Of course, his­tory tells us that there have been oc­ca­sional schisms in the past, most no­to­ri­ously when Prime Minister Robert Peel at­tempted to abol­ish the Corn Laws, which pro­tected Bri­tish farm­ers from over­seas com­pe­ti­tion.

That de­ba­cle meant the Tories were out of power for a gen­er­a­tion — with the great Vic­to­rian Lib­eral, Wil­liam Glad­stone, the ben­e­fi­ciary.

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say the cur­rent cri­sis is so grave we could soon be wit­ness­ing the death of the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Let me ex­plain the se­quence of events that could lead to this.

Al­though I wrote in Wed­nes­day’s Mail that Mrs May and her deal mustn’t be writ­ten off, it is im­por­tant to con­sider the dire con­se­quences of a de­feat on Tues­day.

In­evitably, the first chal­lenge to her au­thor­ity would come from Jeremy Cor­byn, who as leader of the Op­po­si­tion would be en­ti­tled to put down an in­stant vote of no con­fi­dence in Mrs May’s Gov­ern­ment.

If she lost that vote, she would be out of Down­ing Street within hours, and Bri­tain would face a third Gen­eral Elec­tion in as many years.

AF­TER

the sham­bolic way the Tory Gov­ern­ment failed to de­liver Brexit, as de­manded by the Bri­tish peo­ple, the most likely re­sult would be a Labour vic­tory, as vot­ers pun­ished the Tories.

How­ever, my guess is that Mrs May would win a vote of con­fi­dence in the Com­mons. Her back­benchers would fi­nally come to their senses and sup­port her — mostly out of fear of los­ing their jobs in a gen­eral elec­tion rout.

Hav­ing seen off Cor­byn, the next move for Hou­dini May would be to go to Brus­sels to ex­plain to the lead­ers of the other 27 coun­tries that they must of­fer con­ces­sions in or­der to get her deal ap­proved in West­min­ster.

But Brus­sels feels it has done its bit. Many Euro­pean lead­ers be­lieve they have made too many con­ces­sions to the UK al­ready.

And they have their own prob­lems — such as the ri­ots in Paris — to deal with.

How­ever, any con­ces­sions would most likely concern the so-called North­ern Ire­land back­stop, which guar­an­tees fric­tion- less trade be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Ir­ish Repub­lic.

Of course, Mrs May would hope she could win­kle out enough agree­ments to al­low her to win the Com­mons vote on her exit deal a sec­ond time around.

In which case, her lead­er­ship would sur­vive and Bri­tain would break rel­a­tively smoothly from the EU in March.

But let’s sup­pose her deal gets struck down for a sec­ond time by MPs. Mrs May’s au­thor­ity would be shat­tered. Her flag­ship pol­icy would be sunk and Bri­tain would be rud­der­less.

It would be at this point that a Con­ser­va­tive Party split would be most likely.

With her deal re­jected by politi­cians (never for­get, over the heads of the Bri­tish pub­lic), Mrs May could try to ap­peal di­rectly to vot­ers in de­fi­ance of MPs and call a Gen­eral Elec­tion.

In ef­fect, this would be a sin­gleis­sue vote of con­fi­dence in her own per­sonal lead­er­ship and her EU with­drawal deal.

I have no doubt that mil­lions of Bri­tons who ad­mire Mrs May for her fight­ing qual­i­ties would back her.

But such a course would cause ut­ter havoc in the Con­ser­va­tive Party. The fact is that more than 100 Tory MPs have al­ready in­di­cated they re­gard Mrs May’s deal as a sell-out to Brus­sels.

Some of those might quit the party and fight the elec­tion as in­de­pen­dents.

Prob­a­bly some Tory Re­main­ers would re­sign, too, feel­ing that the PM’s deal be­trays their Europhile val­ues. Oth­ers, show­ing shame­less per­sonal van­ity, would aban­don a weak­ened Mrs May and ex­ploit the op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote their own lead­er­ship am­bi­tions.

In sum, the Tory Party would be split asun­der.

The only ben­e­fi­ciary, of course, would be Jeremy Cor­byn.

Fully aware her­self of this sce­nario, I am con­vinced that Mrs May would es­chew call­ing a Gen­eral Elec­tion.

An­other op­tion, fac­ing this mess, would be a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. Pres­sure is mount­ing, and I can un­der­stand why. But if Mrs May agreed to hold one, there would def­i­nitely be a Tory mutiny.

What­ever hap­pens in the com­ing days and weeks, Bri­tain is about to plunge into the most scary week in its post-war his­tory.

Un­less Mrs May wins on Tues­day, we are faced with stark choices: a lame duck prime minister; months of political paral­y­sis; a chal­lenger to Mrs May as Tory leader; or a Cor­byn gov­ern­ment.

Let’s con­sider that there is a move to oust Mrs May be­fore Christ­mas.

Cer­tainly, Tory in­fight­ing would es­ca­late into civil war.

When Mrs May be­came PM in the sum­mer of 2016, she was ap­pointed un­op­posed.

All mooted ri­val can­di­dates — such as Boris John­son, An­drea Lead­som and Michael Gove — dropped out.

This time, I pre­dict there would be plenty of chal­lengers — rep­re­sent­ing all shades of opin­ion — and the Tory Party would quickly self-de­struct.

Cru­cially, hard­line Brex­i­teers know the party’s lead­er­ship elec­tion rules work in their favour.

A se­ries of hus­tings be­tween ri­val can­di­dates would see Tory MPs re­duc­ing the num­ber to two, and then a win­ner would be cho­sen based on a vote of

members.

THE

fact is that any hard­line Brex­i­teer would be the favourite, sim­ply be­cause the Tory grass­roots are over­whelm­ingly Eu­roscep­tic.

Even if a Brus­sels-baiter such as Boris John­son or Ja­cob ReesMogg were re­luc­tantly made sec­ond choice by Tory MPs, ei­ther man would be the dar­ling among Con­ser­va­tive Party members.

But a hard­line Brex­i­teer Tory Party led by John­son or Rees-Mogg would see dozens of MPs quit­ting.

There would be mass de­fec­tions, too, if, on the other hand, a Re­mainer won the con­test.

The bru­tal truth is that there is no com­mon ground any more be­tween Europhile and Eu­roscep­tic Tory MPs.

And so the mo­ment looms when the two fac­tions will find them­selves in­ca­pable of liv­ing along­side each other in the same political party.

Thus the choice faced by Con­ser­va­tive MPs on Tues­day is not sim­ply whether to ac­cept Mrs May’s deal.

It is about the sur­vival or de­struc­tion of the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

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