‘PM FACES UPHILL STRUGGLE TO MAKE THE NUMBERS ADD UP’
Financial Times – 29 March 2019
Theresa May needs to win round all the Conservative critics of her Brexit deal – or make big inroads with Labour MPs – to offset the opposition of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist party, FT research shows. As the Prime Minister prepares to hold a new vote on the exit agreement today, she is seeking to make the parliamentary maths work despite the stance of the DUP, which has been vital to her hopes of winning MPs' approval.
An FT analysis highlights the scale of the challenge, which requires winning over all 75 Tory MPs who voted against the deal this month – unless the DUP reverses course. Alternatively, for every Tory rebel, Mrs May must persuade one additional Labour, or ex-Labour independent, MP to defect, or convince two wavering opponents to abstain.
In her battle to overcome the deal's two previous defeats – by a record 230 votes in January and by 149 this month – Mrs May has had some success in winning support from Tory MPs. After she promised on Wednesday to resign as Prime Minister if the deal is approved, at least 18 Tory Eurosceptics came round – most notably Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary and a potential successor to Mrs May.
Others have more ambiguous stances, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group, the most prominent pro-Brexit Conservative faction in Westminster, who has made his support conditional on the DUP's assent. But at least five Eurosceptic Tory opponents of the deal have indicated they remain intractably opposed, including Dominic Raab, Andrea Jenkyns, Julian Lewis and Steve Baker.
Six Conservative Remainers also reject the agreement in favour of a second referendum – Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, Guto Bebb, Phillip Lee, Dominic Grieve and Jo Johnson.
If all the MPs in these two groups remain opposed to the deal and the DUP is unyielding, Mrs May will need the backing of 11 more Labour MPs. This is in addition to the three Labour MPs and two ex-Labour independents who backed the deal this month. This could be possible, since Mrs May has more than 20 potential Labour targets.
In a novel parliamentary procedure on Wednesday, 25 Labour MPs, plus the former Labour independent Ivan Lewis, broke the party whip to vote against a second referendum – a signal that they could be susceptible to appeals by Mrs May to help see Brexit through.nHowever, some Labour MPs say the prime minister will be able to win over a significant number of converts from the party only if they know their votes will really make the difference between victory and defeat for the deal.
Recent comments by Mrs May that fiercely criticised MPs have not gone down well in Labour ranks, nor has the prospect that if the agreement goes through it could open the way for Mr Johnson – loathed by many in the opposition – to become Prime Minister.