Why Mrs May must tell MPs: Sup­port my deal – or I quit

The Mail on Sunday - - Dan Hodges -

THERESA May’s re­silience is her great­est strength. Her ca­pac­ity t o plough doggedly on­ward i n the face of ad­ver­sity makes Lazarus l ook l i ke a mem­ber of the Wor­ried Well. But this morn­ing that same stead­fast­ness is threat­en­ing to de­stroy her premier­ship.

‘This sec­ond vote stuff is killing her,’ a se­nior Cab­i­net Min­is­ter ad­mit­ted to me, in ref­er­ence to the widely held be­lief that, if the Prime Min­is­ter loses the Brexit vote on De­cem­ber 11, she will sim­ply shrug it off, wring a few con­ces­sions from Brus­sels, then re­turn to the House of Com­mons for an­other go.

‘Down­ing Street’s strat­egy is to win it us­ing VAR,’ an MP claimed, al­lud­ing to the con­tro­ver­sial video sys­tem that al­lowed World Cup ref­er­ees to change their de­ci­sions af­ter a sec­ond look.

But that’s ac­tu­ally the op­po­site of No 10’s strat­egy.

Its plan has been to make the vote in nine days’ time the mo­ment of de­ci­sion. To in­stil in wa­ver­ing back­benchers and vac­il­lat­ing Min­is­ters a recog­ni­tion that they fi­nally have nowhere to hide – it is Her Deal, No Deal or No Brexit.

But in­stead of recog­nis­ing it as a time for choos­ing, many MPs are ap­proach­ing the his­toric di­vi­sion like it’s a dress-re­hearsal. ‘I’ll prob­a­bly vote for her even­tu­ally,’ a nor­mally rock-solid loy­al­ist told me, ‘but I’m not sure I can back Che­quers first time round.’

Where Mrs May hoped Bri­tain’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans would view her deal through the prism of the na­tional in­ter­est they are – to their eter­nal dis­credit – seiz­ing the chance for some ex­pe­di­ent last­minute pol­i­tick­ing.

On the first vote they in­tend to ex­press crowd-pleas­ing dis­plea­sure at the Prime Min­is­ter’s im­per­fect com­pact with the EU.

SEC­OND time round they will – grudg­ingly – vote for the devil they know, cl ai ming t o be safe - guard­ing Bri­tain from the per­ils of a cliff-edge Brexit or a com­plete Brexit rev­er­sal.

Those charged with steer­ing Mrs May’s deal through the Com­mons are alive to the havoc this nar­ra­tive is cre­at­ing. Chief Whip Ju­lian Smith has told May he be­lieves the idea of hold­ing a sec­ond vote is ‘ nuts’. ‘Ju­lian thinks we have to have a de­fin­i­tive re­sult first time around,’ a friend says.

May’s team are equally con­scious of the dan­ger. ‘ If peo­ple think they can vote this down with­out con­se­quences they are mis­taken,’ a se­nior aide warned. ‘If we lose the vote we’re en­ter­ing un­charted ter­ri­tory’.

In fact, Smith and Team May are wrong. The idea of a sec­ond vote is not merely ‘ nuts’, nor does it sim­ply cast the Gov­ern­ment and coun­try adrift in pi­lot­less waters. It rep­re­sents the most bone­headed act of de­nial ever in­dulged in by Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal class.

There is no prospect – none at all – of the EU giv­ing sig­nif­i­cant new con­ces­sions in the face of a re­jec­tion by Par­lia­ment. We know this be­cause ev­ery­one from Don­ald Tusk to JeanClaude Juncker has told us so. Even if the EU bu­reau­crats were for some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son minded to bow to the wishes of a re­bel­lious Com­mons, the EU heads of state would soon bring them to heel.

Merkel, Macron and Pe­dro Sánchez have their own do­mes­tic au­di­ences. And they are not about to let Ger­man, French and Span­ish vot­ers see them get­ting pushed around by Ja­cob Rees-Mogg and ex-Brexit Min­is­ter Steve Baker.

There is also an­other ma­jor flaw with a sce­nario that en­vis­ages the Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter be­ing despatched l i ke a mod­ern- day Oliver Twist to beg the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion for more.

In the in­stant Mrs May loses the vote, she ceases to be Prime Min­is­ter. Her au­thor­ity will be de­stroyed. The au­thor­ity of her Gov­ern­ment will be de­stroyed. Why would any Euro­pean leader even bother to sit down with her when they know power no longer re­sides in Down­ing Street but in the of­fices of the Mem­bers for Uxbridge and South Ruis­lip and Leeds Cen­tral?

If Theresa May wants to stand any chance of pre­vail­ing in nine days’ time she has to kill off the idea that MPs will get a sec­ond chance. More specif­i­cally, she has to stop doggedly plough­ing on, and make one fi­nal, coura­geous stand.

She should is­sue a clear, un­equiv­o­cal state­ment that she re­gards the vote on the 11th as a vote of con­fi­dence in her premier­ship. If the Com­mons de­feats her, she will step down, with all the con­se­quences that would bring.

Cen­trist Tory MPs need to know that a vote against her deal will plunge their party into chaos. That they will have ejected their own Prime Min­is­ter at a mo­ment of na­tional cri­sis, po­ten­tially open­ing the door to the most ra­bidly Left-wing gov­ern­ment in Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

Hard­core Tory Brex­i­teers need to know the days of us­ing Mrs May as a hu­man shield are over. That their bullish claims about be­ing able to wran­gle a tough new deal from Brus­sels are ac­tu­ally go­ing to be put to the test, and that re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­liv­er­ing the Brexit they promised the Bri­tish peo­ple will fi­nally rest with them.

AND Labour MPs need to know the time when they could de­fine them­selves purely by what they are against is also draw­ing to a close. If they wish to defy their leader – and his vi­cious acolytes – by driv­ing through a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, good luck to them.

If, as they claim, they have found an al­ter­na­tive to No Deal they must ex­plain what that deal is, and how it can com­mand a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity. But above all, they and their par­lia­men­tary col­leagues have to re­alise that the votes they cast will have con­se­quences – for both the coun­try and them­selves.

But at the mo­ment May is re­luc­tant to force them to con­front those con­se­quences. Her fa­mous dogged­ness and sense of duty com­pel her to carry on re­gard­less.

‘She won’t threaten to step down,’ an ally says, ‘not be­cause she wants to cling to the job, but be­cause she doesn’t think she can just walk away at a mo­ment like this.’

Theresa May’s re­silience has car­ried her through some des­per­ate mo­ments. But un­less she finds a way to con­vince Par­lia­ment next week’s vote will have no ac­tion re­play, it could also lead her to her most des­per­ate de­feat.

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