Daily speeches from Ministers. The Prime Minister touring the country. A television debate. Welcome to the 2018 UK General Election campaign. There is just one slight difference between this campaign and all others we’ve had in the past – there is no General Election.
The extent of Theresa May’s public appeal ahead of the Parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal is rather strange. We could rightfully ask ourselves what exactly is expected of us in response. The decision is completely out of our hands and the only people May needs to ultimately convince are her fellow Members of Parliament. But her strategy is to go over the heads of MPs and sell her deal directly to the public, in the hope that if the people are supportive, that will up the pressure on her colleagues to be supportive too. What this tells us is that MPs are clearly quite stubborn and that May is not confident at all about how to turn them around. The convoluted process of trying to influence them via the general public in a short space of time can’t have been her first choice.
There is some evidence that May is achieving a swing in public opinion. Survation have recorded a ten point increase in support for the deal since it was first announced (now up to 36%). However, what there isn’t yet, is any suggestion that this will sway any MPs. Brexit has been the key issue for two and a half years now, and politicians have already built up strong opinions on what sort of deal, if any, they will support. Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate and staunch Brexiteer, was candid in an interview this week, confirming that he will be voting against the deal regardless of how many letters he receives from the public.
Even if an MP here or there can be swayed, May needs a huge turnaround or she is going to lose big. Her Parliamentary allies, the DUP, have already stated that this deal is worse than no deal at all, so she can rule them out. Then you have the MPs in the European Research Group, who will all resolutely vote against it, not to mention the wing of the Tory Party who want no Brexit at all. As it stands, the deal could easily lose by over 100 votes, and if that happens surely it is curtains for Theresa May. She achieved more than many expected just by getting a deal with Europe, but it’s been clear for some time now that negotiating with ourselves was going to be the hardest part. May’s only hope now is to get the vote to a close enough margin that she can then argue she deserves one more go at negotiating a deal that will push it over the line.
As for the content of this hypothetical deal that will please hard Brexiteers, soft Brexiteers, the DUP, Remainers and the European Union, let’s just leave that for Theresa to work out. Can’t be that hard can it? What a mess.