A meeting of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench Members of Parliament (MPs) on 23 April that attempted to change party rules to allow a vote of confidence on the Prime Minister ended without a conclusive decision.
Conservative backbenchers are said to be split on whether to change the rules to allow a vote of confidence by June as support for Prime Minister Theresa May within the party fell sharply. However, MPs were concerned as to the precedent it would set for future Prime Ministers and the possible electoral effect of such a move, which could see the Tories losing even more support.
Another meeting of the 1922 Committee is set to take place tonight in an effort to reach a decision. Tory (Conservative) MPs are concerned that the Brexit process has stalled since the latest extension to 31 October was agreed to with the European Union. Concerns that the Tories are sleep- walking into an electoral disaster in the upcoming European Parliament elections on 23 May and local council elections on 2 May mean that there is pressure to resolve the impasse quickly.
There is an apparent lack of a strategy with May wanting to bring her Withdrawal Agreement as the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Parliament, in order to circumvent the Speaker’s ruling that she cannot present the same motion repeatedly. But the Withdrawal Agreement has been comprehensively defeated in Parliament three times already and May has already conceded that she still does not have the support in Parliament to get the agreement through.
Talks are ongoing with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the hope of finding a compromise deal that would allow May to pass the Withdrawal Agreement with the support of Labour MPs. However, Labour has complained that the Tories have not shifted their position at all, and are merely “regurgitating” the same Withdrawal Agreement proposals. Tory representatives have conversely complained that Labour refuses to compromise.
May is coming under increasing pressure from her own party following her decision to enter talks with Labour and her failure to push through the election promise to leave the European Union.
A poll of Conservative members on the popularity of cabinet ministers taken by the website ConservativeHome on 18 April showed that of the 31 cabinet members listed, May was at the bottom of the list with her ratings having crashed to -73.5 from -40.2 in February.
ConservativeHome commentator Mark Wallace wrote, “I’ve searched our archives and so far as I can see this is the worst rating awarded to any Conservative ever on this question. The only cabinet league table numbers I can find which were worse were Vince Cable and Chris Huhne [both Liberal Democrats] at their respective nadirs during the coalition years [the Conservative and Liberal Parties were in coalition from 2010-2015], which are not people a Tory prime minister would want to rival in the grassroots popularity stakes.”
May had asked MPs to go on their holidays and to consider the Brexit situation, apparently in the hope that this would see MPs start to fall into line with the Government’s position. No such shift has taken place within Parliament and the Tory party is just as divided now as it was before Easter. If anything, the mood of MPs has turned against May, with few commentators expecting her to survive the European Parliament elections and into June.