THERESA MAY is still Prime Minister – for now. That much, and only that much, can be said for certain after the Prime Minister survived the confidence vote triggered by the 48 Tory MPs who had lost faith in her handling of Brexit negotiations.
Yet, while her winning margin of 200-117 votes was sufficient because she only needed to secure backing from a majority of the 317 Conservative MPs, she only achieved this result by confirming her intention not to fight the next election.
Far from the outcome being respected after Mrs May said that “we now need to get on with the job”, the opposite appears feasible after more than a third of Tory MPs voted against a Prime Minister whose support in the country at large is not shared by so many of her Parliamentary colleagues.
But the warring factions need to remember this. Even after this inconclusive hiatus, Britain is still due to leave the European Union in 105 days time. However, businesses – and ordinary families – are still none the wiser over how the UK will trade with the EU, whether firms will be able to hire skilled staff or if the NHS can procure vital medicines.
Two and a half long years after the referendum, Mrs May has been repeatedly undermined by factional infighting aided and abetted by Opposition parties – and she is still stymied by the absence of a Commons majority. These factors have not changed.
Let down by the posturing of senior Ministers, and the more hardline Leave and Remain supporters, Mrs May is also guilty of allowing a number of strategic errors to take place. By sidelining the House of Commons, the Government found itself in contempt of Parliament before the Prime Minister and her office were demeaned by the decision to abort the debate, and the vote, on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mrs May’s troubles don’t end here despite promising a renewed focus on domestic policies when she addressed the nation. Based on this vote, it will take remarkable brinkmanship to get any revived Brexit deal through Parliament. And, depending on the outcome of the latest EU summit, pressure will grow on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence next week that could bring the Government down if a handful of Tories side with the Opposition.
All this at a time when MPs should be working to get a Brexit plan in place by January 21, the supposed cut-off date for new laws to be passed in order for Brexit to take effect on March 29, 2019.
Time will tell if this deadline can be met – and Mrs May’s resolution is remarkable. However any chance of passing a responsible Brexit strategy which does not take unnecessary risks with jobs and the wider economy – or compromise the United Kingdom’s bonds of history – will only come about if her colleagues stop the fantasy politics and focus on providing the responsible leadership once expected of the Conservative Party.
Time is not on the side of Ministers, even with Theresa May reprieved. But for how long – and will she be in a position to deliver a pragmatic Brexit? Alas, this is still the biggest imponderable of all after a rather hollow vote of confidence.