ANALYSIS: Theresa May must try harder if she doesn't want MPs to Boycott her Brexit plan

Posted On: 
15th November 2018

It was another make-or-break occasion for the Prime Minister, but she failed to seize the moment, says Emilio Casalicchio.

Theresa May held a press conference at Downing Street tonight
Credit: 
PA Images

Weary hacks, still trying to make sense of the events of the past 36 hours, trooped into 10 Downing Street to hear Theresa May's take on another extraordinary day.

Would she seize the initiative, John Major style, by calling on her critics to "put up or shut up"? Fat chance.

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Her opening statement about serving in high office being an “honour and a privilege” as well as a “heavy responsibility” pricked up the ears of hacks at the Downing Street press conference tonight eager for this most headline-averse Prime Minister to provide a news line.

But the address soon descended into the usual platitudes about the benefits of her Brexit deal and the need for unity to deliver it. Journalists were so surprised at the brevity of her speech that the PM was met with stunned silence at the end instead of hands shooting up to ask questions.

When the questions came they failed to elicit much more information to inspire a divided nation. Probes about her warring party, the tough parliamentary arithmetic and the seemingly inevitable vote of no confidence in her leadership were mostly met with the same response: I am doing my job to secure a deal and deliver on the result of the referendum, MPs must do their duty in the national interest when the vote comes.

Her central warning to critical MPs was that those who refuse to back the vote in the Commons, and in doing so either trigger a no-deal departure or cancel Brexit altogether, will be punished by their constituents.

But for such a threat to work, the PM surely needs evidence that the country backs her plan - and none appears to exist. Polls suggest the public thinks her deal is a doozy, with Sky Data saying just 14% support it compared with 31% who would prefer a no deal and 54% who would prefer no Brexit at all. Try telling ERG members like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today called for her head, that backing her withdrawal deal could lose them their seats.

Rather, her threat will ring hollow to MPs, while her uninspiring message is too weak win over a sceptical public.

The PM cannot be faulted for her determination to soldier on. She even noted her admiration of cricketer Geoffrey Boycott who “stuck to it and he got the runs in the end”.

But she omitted to mention the famous Yorkshireman's other noted characteristics - he regularly bored spectators rigid and then run out his team-mates. Come to think of it, maybe she is even more like him than she realises.