Rebels without a get-out clause. Why you shouldn’t expect many declared Leave opponents of the deal to back down

Rebels without a get-out clause. Why you shouldn’t expect many declared Leave opponents of the deal to back down

(Constituencies coded A had a Leave vote of over 60%, those coded B had a Leave vote of over 50%, those coded C had a Leave vote over 40% and those coded D had a Leave vote of less than 40%. )

Everyone loves talking about the rebel MPs who have put Theresa May in double trouble.  There are numerous lists floating around.  Some list all the MPs who have expressed reservations about Chequers or the deal.  Some seek to look into the souls of the MPs and divine how they might change their minds before the meaningful vote.  

Quite a lot of these lists are badly out of date: many of them don’t seem to have been updated since the vote was pulled in December, which is strange because MPs haven’t stopped talking about their intentions.  Twitter was convulsed with excitement when it was reported that Mike Wood was going to resign as a PPS to oppose the deal – but he announced a month ago that he would not vote for it as it stood.  Andrew Murrison’s and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown’s support for the deal was proclaimed to be good news for the Prime Minister, but again this was already known.

As of this morning, I count 11 Conservative MPs who are calling for a new referendum and exactly 100 more Conservative MPs who are opposing the deal, essentially because it is insufficiently Brexity.  They may change their mind between now and the vote (some might have done so by the time this has been published), but that’s where I see the state of play right now.

For now I’m going to leave the 11 Remainer Conservatives to one side.  While there are routes to securing the meaningful deal that do not involve getting the acquiescence of the dissident Leavers, while they are so numerous it would seem almost certain to split the Conservative party from stem to stern.  So let’s concentrate on them.

Here’s my current list of the 100 Brexiteers (apologies in advance to any MPs whose views I have inadvertently misrepresented).  To explain the colour-coding, those listed first in bold resigned from government over the handling of Brexit negotiations.  Those in ochre are those additional MPs who publicly announced that they had put in a letter of no confidence in Theresa May.  I’d assume they’re all irreconcilable.  You can presumably add Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel, both of whom signed a letter this morning urging colleagues to vote down the deal.  That’s 43 votes against that look rock solid by any definition and we haven’t really got started.  

Theresa May urgently needs to get a lot of the rest on board.  That brings us to the map at the top of the page (you can zoom in and out with your mouse if you like).  This shows those 100 MPs’ constituencies mapped by Leave vote in the referendum.   As you can see, the overwhelming majority of these constituencies voted Leave.  

Now, put yourself in the position of one of the MPs who is unhappy but not one of the headbangers.  You have the whips cajoling you to get behind your Prime Minister.  You hear that call.  But you also hear the call of your constituency party and your electorate.

 If 65% of your constituency voted Leave and 40% of them see themselves as very strong Leavers, that’s up to a quarter of the electorate who might be infuriated if you backtrack now.  Worse, they were disproportionately likely to have voted for you in 2017.  The constituency party is probably stuffed with hardliners.  

There comes a point where you conclude, as Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin did, that I must follow them, for I am their leader.” It’s not a coincidence that Cornwall, Essex and Kent constituencies are so well represented on this map.

So these MPs may well feel at least as much pressure to stand firm as to support their Prime Minister.  It could get worse for her too.  There are 14 Conservative MPs who have still to disclose how they will vote.  Some of them, such as Jack Brereton, Eddie Hughes and Tom Pursglove, also represent heavily Leave-voting constituencies.  If they see the deal is going down heavily, some of them might well decide that the advantage lies with currying favour with their own hardliners.

What this suggests to me is that this rebellion is likely to remain firm.  As a result, if you are betting on seat bands, err on the side of pessimism from Theresa May’s perspective.

Alastair Meeks

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