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Can Theresa May’s Government Survive?

By Sophie Davidson, Public Affairs Intern


When Theresa May called an election this year, there is no way she could have predicted what was to come. A minority government is a constant risk, and since this government was formed, we’ve seen crisis after crisis chip away at Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ government. May definitely knew the potential for trouble in the ensuing EU negotiations, but what has really challenged her leadership has been trouble from her own cabinet and party. This has led to increasing calls from her to resign and speculation that her government will collapse. But is this realistic?

Arguably, Theresa May’s biggest problem comes from within her own team. An unmistakable sense of instability has been emanating from her cabinet for weeks, if not months, and two cabinet resignations in a week would be a serious blow to any Prime Minister. As if the resignations were not enough, the response to the elevation of her key ally Gavin Williamson MP, who lacks any real ministerial experience, to Secretary of State for Defence, was worse causing real division within the Conservative Party. Furthermore, Priti Patel’s “resignation” opens big questions about Boris’ comments on Iran and whether he should also resign. Plus, if the Westminster sex scandal erupts into the catastrophic exodus that some were warning of, May’s slim majority – which is already dependent on the DUP – could crumble.  

Looking forward, Philip Hammond will inevitably face bad press when he presents the budget on November 22nd, which is expected to be dull and fiscally conservative. Hammond is also a personal problem for May; he consistently uses an anti-Brexit narrative which clashes with May’s own public rhetoric, and reportedly is refusing to share details of his budget with her.

On the other side of the house, Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson this morning said that it appeared to him that random events could take the unstable government down, which could ‘collapse at any time’. However, the series of “random events” we have seen since the election, although chipping away at the stability and authority of government, are not the type to take down a Prime Minister.

Clearly, this is a disastrous time for May, but the idea that her Government must inevitably fall is misguided. Theresa May’s unexpected boost in approval ratings goes some way to reinforce this notion. What is apparent, is that the bigger problem is the underlying divide in her government between Brexiteers and Remainers, a problem that is unlikely to go away. In fact, experts at Morgan Stanley predicted that the government will collapse next year for this reason. The government has no unifying programme, there is a lack of enthusiasm for Brexit, and ideas of what constitutes a successful Brexit are too diverse to present an effective negotiating position. In the practical sense, May’s minority government means that only a few hard-line Brexiteers need to rebel on any one issue to create a disastrous collapse.

As such, the future of Theresa May’s government lies in the hands of David Davis and whether he is able to forge an agreement that appeases both sides. The financial settlement is the largest hurdle for the negotiations and it is important that the government gets it right; it the UK ends up paying what is deemed as “too much”, the response from the backbenchers and the media could be catastrophic.

Despite all this chaos, Theresa May will probably be saved by two underlying and important factors. Firstly, May can for the moment take refuge in the fact that there is no one viable, or publically willing, to replace her, with many viewing it as a poison chalice.

Secondly, the collapse of her government would be see uncontrollable turmoil ensue at both home and abroad. So, as much as no one really wants to see her stay, no one can afford to let her go.  


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