The Germans have a phrase ‘Immer mit der Ruhe’. Keep calm at all times. The Conservative Party would do well to heed that message. Voters don’t like divided parties. The fall in support for the Tories in the weekend opinion polls is more to do with voters not liking the disunity within the Tories than a dislike of the Brexit ‘deal’, dreadful though it is.
We are in the middle of tumultuous political times. Today is a day that could tell us a lot about Theresa May’s future. We keep being told that Sir Graham Brady has “nearly” got 48 letters, which would force a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. We’ve been told that for quite some time now.
Back in 1990 we were in the middle of taking military action against Iraq over Kuwait. That didn’t stop Tory MPs toppling Margaret Thatcher, so the little matter of a summit on Sunday in Brussels is unlikely to deter any Tory MP from sending in a letter today, even though it ought to. The trouble is, they don’t seem to be able to see the wood for the trees at the moment.
I live in hope that even at this late stage the Prime Minister can tweak this 585 page deal document which has caused me and other supporters of Brexit so much concern. However, the weaker her position becomes domestically the less likely it is that European leaders will pay any heed at all to any suggestions she has about how to improve the deal document to reassure her critics.
So my message to Tory MPs is this: If you haven’t put in a letter already, don’t. The time to think seriously about the future leadership of this country is after the deal falls in a Commons vote, not before. It says a lot about the idiotic, boneheaded tactics of the ERG that they think now is the time to strike. Given they were all exhorted by Jacob Rees-Mogg on Friday to put their letters in, it is now clear that they haven’t got the numbers they thought they had.
If they can’t get 48 people by now, it is unlikely the number of MPs voting against the Prime Minister in a confidence vote would be enough to topple her.
And even if they do manage to get the numbers today or tomorrow, what then? The Prime Minister will win a vote of confidence and then she is unassailable for another twelve months. If they had waited until after her deal is defeated in the Commons they’d have stood a much better chance of achieving their aim.
In addition, the Prime Minister can be quite pleased by the limited gene pool of those arraigned against her. You can imagine more than half of them standing behind John Redwood at his leadership campaign launch in 1995. Readers of an older disposition will know what I mean. The sound of flapping white coats is almost deafening. And I don’t mean this as an insult to John Redwood, who is a man I much admire - but the company he kept at that time sunk his leadership ambitions almost before they had got wind in their sails.
I am not writing this article as a ‘defend Theresa May at all costs’ message. She will be judged on her record, and I’m afraid it’s not a great one. On Brexit I feel utterly betrayed by her. But now is not the time to topple her.
Any new leader would be almost certainly have to plead with the EU to withdraw Article 50 because there would be no time to renegotiate any deal. So unless a new leader is up front from the beginning and stands on a platform of ‘no deal’, I find it difficult to see how we would leave the EU as planned on 29 March 2019. And let me remind you, that is in 130 days time.
Maybe Michael Gove’s belief that the most important thing is to get to that date and everything else can wait, has some truth in it after all.