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May will be hard to shift despite huge defeat

Wednesday 16 January 2019

DR BEN Williams, Lecturer in Politics and Political Theory, comments as Theresa May sees her Brexit deal defeated by over 200 votes.

Dr Williams said: “The scale of Theresa May’s parliamentary defeat over her Brexit deal is unprecedented. Not since the 1920s has a government suffered a rejection in the Commons on such a heavy scale, and on this basis, it can only be viewed as a humiliating personal and political setback for the UK Prime Minister.

“The warning signs were evident before Christmas, and even though May delayed this crucial vote in order to win round critics, it seemed to make no difference. Indeed, the extent of the vote against her deal surprised many commentators in terms of how high it was, which suggests opposition to it has been growing rather than reducing since it was announced last November. 

“Yet given the unstable and unprecedented political times we are living through, it doesn’t automatically mean the end of Theresa May’s premiership. Based on past historical events, many leaders who endured such a parliamentary rejection would have resigned by now, but May has already indicated significant powers of durability in the light of previous setbacks. 

“She survived losing her parliamentary majority at the 2017 general election, and her position is further protected by the fact that she saw off an internal challenge by her own MPs in December. This means there cannot be a further formal Conservative leadership contest for another year. Her position is relatively stabilised because of this, and is further bolstered by stark divisions within her Cabinet, her wider parliamentary party, and indeed the opposition Labour Party. This is further compounded by divisions within the country at large. In short, there is no clear contender who can succeed her who is offering a credible and coherent alternative, which practically means she retains her position by default.

“Although May now faces a formal ‘vote of no confidence’ from the Labour Opposition, she is likely to win it, as none of her internal party critics ultimately seek a general election where the result would be far from certain or predictable. Neither do the DUP, her minority coalition partners who fear a Corbyn-led Labour administration. For its part, Labour is struggling to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’, with some of its MPs demanding a general election to resolve the Brexit deadlock, while others advocate a second referendum or ‘people’s vote’. May continues to cling on, but she does remain vulnerable, and a well-organised Cabinet coup remains a lingering possibility that could lead to her final downfall over this Brexit saga.”

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Sam Wood

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