The Conservative Party will break Theresa May at the worst possible moment
The Tories want a hardline version of Brexit that the country does not. If they try to force it on May, the consequences are not hard to foresee
As of right now, both main parties are bitterly divided, the country is bitterly divided, we stand on the brink of a seismic event in the nation’s history but have very little clue where it might register on the Richter scale. We have no real idea when or how we might get a new prime minister, nor when there might be a general election.
It is, in short, a tricky time to be gauging the national mood, yet a large number of detailed bits of political polling have been published that intimate the near future has the potential to be every bit as bonkers as the past.
Firstly, according to 3,000 voters asked by the website Politico, 47 per cent of voters want Theresa May to compromise and reach a deal with the European Union, compared to 35 per cent who would rather she walked away without one. Indeed, 53 per cent of voters to 47 would rather we stayed in the European Union than exited with no deal in place.
But Conservative voters take the opposing view. 65 per cent prefer leaving without a deal to remaining in the EU.
Which is to say that Theresa May’s current strategy, of inching towards a deal, and gladly throwing off hard Brexit ballast in the form of David Davis, Boris Johnson and others as she does so, is popular with the public.
If she achieves a deal, she will win support, broadly enough, from the kind of coalition of the public that you need to win an election.
Except for the fact that her own party is turning against her for the very same reasons.
Once upon a time, the Conservative Party’s stranglehold over British politics, which is roughly two centuries old depending how you choose to count it, could be put down to that party’s correct deduction that winning power was its prima facie duty. Breaking oneself upon the ideological wheel was rightly, and successfully, always best left to others.
And the indications are that she is indeed inching towards a meaningful deal. There are indications the EU is willing to compromise on what was once a red line of its own, which was the whole of the UK remaining in the EU’s customs union while the future trading relationship could be worked out. There appears to be some progress on the thorniest issue of all, namely the “backstop to the backstop”, on the future status of Northern Ireland and the Irish border, depending on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.
There is every chance that, within a few weeks, Theresa May will, in the face of impossible pressure from a febrile party made all the more febrile via the parliamentary majority she lost, have produced a deal that is acceptable to Brussels, to Northern Ireland, to large numbers of Remain voters and large numbers of Brexit voters.
Of course, it is not at all clear whether this delicate deal, brokered in super slow motion in the full public glare, will be approved by the House of Commons, nor is it clear what happens if it is not.
Jeremy Corbyn will only be able to bring it down with the acquiescence of most of his MPs. Most of them will not want it brought down, nor do they, for the most part, want him to be prime minister.
So what of the future beyond that point? Theresa May, probably, wants to go on. She constantly fails to resist the temptation to talk of the “burning injustices” she spoke of when she first became prime minister. There can’t be much doubting she would like to have a proper turn at dealing with some of that stuff.
And yet, if she delivers an outcome to Brexit that is electorally palatable for the whole country, the chances are her party will break her anyway. Who they replace her with is very hard to say. The chance to reshape Brexit in a more hardline way will be as good as gone. So will the chance to remain in Europe. There are precious few figures in the Conservative Party who have shaped themselves around anything other than their position on Brexit over the past few years.
Arguably, the only one that has is Theresa May. It’s just about feasible she could be in this for the long term. If her party decide otherwise, they might just reveal themselves to have given up on the business of politics. In normal times, such decisions produce predictable results, and not normally for Conservatives.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.
Sign our petition here