The unique nature of Britain’s Parliamentary democracy requires successful governments to play an extraordinarily careful balancing act. When it isn’t the British public opposing your policies, democratic revolts can often ferment among powerful factions of your own backbenchers. And even when your parliamentary party show a seemingly united front, party members are never far from initiating a grassroots uprising against the party’s direction of travel.
The Conservative Party are one of, if not the oldest, political party in the world. And, throughout this long history – including their former guise as the Tory Party – they have endured and survived numerous disagreements, resolutions and eventual political evolutions. But for the last 40 years, an internal war over Britain’s relationship with the European Union has been raging – a war which now appears to be finally reaching its catastrophically bloody conclusion.
This near half-century long quarrel has often spilled over and resulted in technical party splits. Indeed, we wouldn’t be in today’s extraordinarily fraught position over Brexit if it wasn’t for the birthchild of one of these ideological breakups: UKIP.
Following the result of the Brexit referendum in 2016, it was assumed by most that UKIP had achieved their purpose – of campaigning for, and then successfully ensuring, Britain’s exit from the EU. And now, with the party’s recent demise into an outright far-right party, their external influence over the Conservative Party’s direction was assumed extinguished.
Indeed, following the current UKIP leader Gerard Batten’s recruitment of the far-right Muslim-baiting hate-preacher Stephen Yaxley-Lennon as an official advisor on rape-gangs (yes seriously), even the likes of Nigel Farage – an openly hard-right xenophobic nationalist himself – decided his former party are now a lost cause.
Despite their clear descent into the politics of neo-fascism, UKIP are still polling at around 5% of the vote – a sizeable portion of the population for such an extreme party. But, given Theresa May’s outright failure to unite her own party around her Brexit deal, the flames of this previously dampened UKIP inferno are now, more than ever before, on the brink of engulfing, and now entirely enveloping the Tory party as a serious electoral force.
Today, the Prime Minister took the unprecedented decision of pulling the parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal – one of the most crucial parliamentary votes in almost half a century – because she was fully aware it would be rejected by the vast majority of MPs, including over a hundred from her own party. And now, in a desperate last-ditch attempt to placate both the DUP as well as her hard-Brexit-backing backbenchers, Theresa May has sent her Brexit negotiators back to Brussels in a last-ditch attempt to obtain further assurances from the EU regarding the supposedly temporary nature of the infamous Irish backstop.
However, if Theresa May is able to renegotiate her Brexit deal to command a majority in the House of Commons – one which then becomes ratified and implemented as the UK’s permanent exit deal – it would initiate an internal firestorm amongst her hard-Brexit-backing MPs, the likes of which the Conservative Party has surely never seen before.
As it stands, more than 100 Conservative MPs are opposed to Theresa May’s Brexit deal. And, despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that it is simply small and easily obtainable assurances on the Irish backstop that will persuade these MPs to change tact, the vast majority of opposition within her own party from hardline Brexiteers is far more fundamental than mere details.
In addition to this clear internal split amongst Tory MPs, the party’s core voting support is equally divided, with a far-reaching YouGov survey of over 20,000 people indicating that those who wish to see a so-called “clean-break” no deal Brexit would garner a virtually identical amount of support as Theresa May’s current proposed deal.
The wide-ranging survey shows that 27.1% of the electorate would support Theresa May’s deal as it stands, whilst 26.7% would support the hardline Brexiteer stance of no deal. Essentially, Tory voters appear to be split completely down the middle on a point of almost irreconcilable principle.
And, after their “take back control” rhetoric was endorsed and approved by the British public in the 2016 referendum, Tory Brexiteers are in no mood to relent on their demands for a clean break. And if Theresa May’s deal leaves us – as Brexiteers claim – ‘tied into the EU’s institutions indefinitely’, it is inconceivable that their 40-year fight for a clean break from the European Union will end there.
Indeed, whilst the Tories’ Junior Brexit Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, has already admitted to his personal concern that “one or two [Tory Brexiteers] might leave” the party over Theresa May’s middle-of-the-road Brexit deal, the situation is almost certainly far more grave.
Indeed, the Conservative Party’s former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, hit the nail on the head far more accurately when he stated today that, given their extraordinary and ever-increasing internal fractures, the Tory Party “cannot continue in its current form“, and that there was a real risk “the party will split“.
The Brexit referendum was initially conceived by the former Prime Minister David Cameron – seen to be firmly within the political centre of the Tory party – as a way of finally settling the party’s ingrained divisions over Europe once and for all. It was – with hindsight, and with the exception of Neville Chamberlain’s attempted appeasement of Adolf Hitler – one of the most catastrophic Tory political calculations in history.
From the moment the result of the EU referendum was officially announced, even prominent Tory MPs who backed Leave knew the public’s decision would signal a seminal and potentially catastrophic decision for the future of the Conservative Party. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – two of Vote Leave’s most prominent and ardent advocates – wore pale stoney faces that belied their previous passionate pro-leave demands. They knew that, not only did they not have a plan, their party was now facing desperate division – a scenario which has played out almost theatrically through Theresa May’s indecipherably exasperating two-year long Brexit deal prevarication.
Any British Prime Minister would have struggled negotiating our exit from the European Union – but Theresa May, taking up a virtual caretaker role as Tory leader through these past two years of Brexit negotiations, has been doomed right from the very start. And calling a snap election she promised the country she wouldn’t call, only to lose her majority and be forced into a shady deal with the DUP, only added kerosene to the unfolding Tory Brexit cataclysm.
Indeed, the current Prime Minister (correct at the time of publishing) has essentially treated her Brexit negotiations as a tightrope walk – attempting to appease and placate all sides of her own party, as well as the DUP, in a desperate attempt to keep them all together.
However, rather being any normal political balancing act, the light at the end of Theresa May’s Brexit tightrope has always been a flaming bear trap. But, after she spotted this trap at the finish line, she’s now discovered that her starting position has been replaced by a black hole. For the Prime Minister, it is now a case of either taking the hit herself and hoping things work themselves out, or turning back on her red lines and potentially sucking the entire party into electoral oblivion. However, even if she does decide to take the hit herself, her choice may end up burning the party to the ground anyway. And, if she simply decides to give up and jump, another politically-suicidal and insatiably power-hungry Tory will convince themselves to take her place – a leader who could actually cause even worse damage for the party.
The future of the Conservative Party really is completely up in the air. But one thing is for certain, things are just about to come crashing down. The only remaining questions are; will it only be Theresa May who falls? Will it be both her and her party? Or will the Prime Minister attempt to take the entire country down with them?