Theresa May has won a fragile reprieve. She has won the vote of confidence, but that doesn’t bring her any closer to the consummation she devoutly wishes for. But in refusing just yet to test the popularity of her Brexit deal in a Commons vote, Britain’s Prime Minister has tested the patience of Conservative MPs.
However, there is little doubt that she has bolstered her standing, having conveyed the impression that she is a Prime Minister on the run after the postponement of the Brexit vote in the House of Commons.
A confidence vote in parliament is generally provoked by the actions of the leader; it is a quirk of Britain’s constitutional narrative that Thursday’s vote was necessitated by what she did not do. In effect, the Tory hardliners have given her another innings at the crease; yet the 83-vote margin is far from convincing though not as brittle as the referendum vote (June 2016).
Equally, it is no affirmation of loyalty. For now, the fractious party has given her the nod to pursue the course of action on Brexit. Diehard Brexit fanatics have failed to remove the Prime Minister. She must now be more explicit in ruling out their no-deal campaign. It is open to question whether a new leader will, unlike the incumbent, be able to deliver on Brexit.
It sure is an expensive proposition and the “Leave” campaign has on occasion been rather unrealistic. Quite the most daunting aspect is the animosity of Eurosceptic ideologues who are said to have obstructed the path to rational compromise. Indeed, a process of trial and error has potholed the road to Brexit, the distance between London and Brussels.
The very act of calling a confidence vote betrays the ruling party’s arrogance and hypocrisy. The arrogance was reflected in the belief that Britain’s destiny should be settled by internal debate within the Tory party, and that at such a critical juncture, the Prime Minister can be chosen by around 100,000 Conservative members from a pair of candidates. The idea is embedded in the delusion that the rest of the country scarcely matters.
Further, it was hypocritical to have tried out such an experiment in the name of democracy, claiming to channel “the will of the people” for a partisan agenda. Mrs May’s misjudgments are central to the crisis.
But Britain must give it to her that she has at least admitted that Brexit involves difficult trade-offs, specifically between open trade and closed borders; between regulatory autonomy and market access. Leavers and Remainers dislike the balance she has struck, but she does not pretend there is a perfect Brexit. There is no scope for dangerous no-deal fantasies.