On Thursday this week, a senior Conservative Party source told the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, that “the revolution is eating its children.” And with that summed up some of the most dramatic days in British politics so far this year. To get to the root of this we must go back to the beginning of the week when rumours spread through Westminster that the interminable charade of the Brexit negotiation may have been about to reach a conclusion. This was indeed the case, as late on Tuesday, Downing Street announced a draft agreement (over 500 pages of the bloody thing), had been agreed by both teams of negotiators.
It did not take long for staunch leavers, such as everyone’s favourite Dickensian character Jacob Rees-Mogg, to decry this agreement as being a betrayal of the deluded utopian ideals of Brexit. It was amongst this hail of criticism that Theresa May faced the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions where she was met by yet another tidal wave of abuse, with only 7 MPs of a possible 650 offering public support for her deal. This is bad news for May as she has promised to allow parliament a vote on the final deal and in its current state, there’s about as much chance of it passing as there is of Trump joining Greenpeace.
Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
At least she could rely on the support of her closest colleagues in the Cabinet, right? Well, after spending all of Wednesday morning meeting each minister on a one-to-one basis to make sure they were on side, you’d think so. However, that afternoon’s full Cabinet meeting to finally confirm their support overran by several hours, causing sterling to plummet. But finally, the PM emerged to face a bank of reporters who had had nothing to look at all afternoon other than Larry the No.10 cat, to confirm that yes, all the cabinet agreed that her EU deal was generally the best thing since sliced bread. End of story. Done deal. Until Thursday morning when many of Theresa’s mates who had backed her the previous evening decided to jump ship from the cabinet. Ministers were resigning on the hour every hour all morning on the grounds that the Brexit deal was not what the people voted for. Conveniently, with Big Ben out of action, the regular trickle of resignations did give Westminster residents something by which to set their watches.
The most influential resignation was Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who told the PM that he could not in “good conscience” back the draft deal – seemingly ignoring the fact that it was his department that negotiated and drew up the very deal over which he was resigning. After Thursday, May’s Cabinet had more holes than a cheese grater and she was sinking fast. Many suspected her resignation by the end of the week but at the time of writing, this is yet to come to fruition. Her position remains very shaky, particularly after vocal Brexiteer Jacob ‘upper-class twit of the year’ Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no confidence in the PM to the 1922 Committee (the right-wing faction of the Conservative Party) meaning there is now very open and violent rebellion within the party.
After a week from hell, May now seems to be calming the storm again. Amber Rudd, ex-Home Secretary, has been bought into the recently vacated position of Secretary for Work and Pensions and a fresh face has popped up in the Brexit Secretary position, ex-banker Stephen Barclay, an unimaginative City drone if ever I saw one but presumably unlikely to rock the boat. His appointment came after the job was yesterday offered to major Leave Campaign figurehead and political leech Michael Gove. Unsurprisingly Gove refused the offer because that seat at the Cabinet table seems to have a sword of Damocles hanging above it and then returned home to decide if he was going to resign from the cabinet altogether. After two days of agonising, he announced on Friday that he would be staying as he wants to be “part of the solution” despite the fact he’s mostly responsible for the problem in the first place.
At the time of writing (Friday) May is far from her preferred ‘strong and stable’ state. Rees-Mogg’s no confidence letter was by no means the only one and rumours now suggest that as many as 20 have been received by party officials, almost halfway to the 45 required for a full no-confidence vote that could remove Mrs May from office. On Friday morning she faced repeated criticism from members of the public on an LBC radio call-in show with one caller branding her a “modern Neville Chamberlain” – although ‘peace in our time’ seems far away this week.