Are the Conservatives headed for a split over Brexit?
By Joe Harker
The BBC reports that up to 80 Tory MPs are planning on voting against Theresa May's Brexit plan. Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, said the Prime Minister's Chequers deal had alienated many and that a "catastrophic split" was coming unless a different plan was formed. With the Prime Minister standing by her plan it would mean a huge schism in the government if Baker is correct.
Baker is the former chairman of the European Research Group, an anti-EU Tory faction of 60 MPs currently headed up by Jacob Rees-Mogg. If Baker's claims that at least 80 MPs are considering opposing May are true then it means opposition to the Prime Minister's Chequers deal goes beyond the ERG.
The Tories cannot afford to split over such an important issue. Their majority is dependent on the DUP so they cannot survive a rebellion of 80 MPs without significant help from the other parties in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister might be hoping to count on the support of some Brexit supporting Labour MPs but that could make even more Tories turn against her.
The Evening Standard is calling it a "Brexplosion" and believe a change of leadership in the Conservative party is inevitable at some point. They report that certain Tory MPs are looking to manipulate the situation with Brexit to give them a chance of becoming Prime Minister, while others are hoping for a new party leader because they aren't getting the type of Brexit they want.
They also report that most of the Tories expect Theresa May to be removed as leader before the next general election. The key factor is whether she goes before or after the UK leaves the EU. Her MPs are not supportive of her Chequers deal but could keep her in place just to get some form of Brexit over the line. They would then attempt to remove the Prime Minister and pick a new leader in an attempt to regain their majority at the next election.
The threat of a rebellion from her own MPs has caused May to shelve some of her policies, including a planned boundary change that would remove 50 constituencies that was due to be put to the House of Commons in October. Instead it will be put on hold for several months and might even outlast May depending on the success of efforts to oust her.
Part of the reason the boundary changes could cause problems for the Prime Minister is because certain MPs who have spoken out against the Prime Minister would lose their seats or risk being voted out. While the changes are projected to give the Tories 20 more seats in a general election David Davis and Priti Patel would lose their constituencies while Boris Johnson would face losing his seat in an election.
The split in the Tory party must be resolved one way or another. If the different groups of MPs cannot reconcile their interests then there may indeed be a "Brexplosion" coming.