She has become a great survivor, defying political gravity for the last 18 months. Few believed Theresa May could maintain her position for long after losing her majority at the 2017 election and the PM has been regarded as on the brink ever since. The best political betting sites expect the saga will finally end in 2019, offering best odds of just 4/9.
Is her imminent demise cast in stone? Recent years have shown that there are no certainties in political betting anymore and May’s exit date is a case in point - several short-odds gambles have failed already. Everything revolves around the perennially unpredictable Brexit process. Here’s three ways it could pan out.
Winning last week’s leadership contest left May fatally wounded with her MPs - opposed by more than half of Tory backbenchers - but secure for another year from another challenge. Enough time to deliver the Brexit she wants - irrespective of hardline Eurosceptics - if only she can convince enough MPs to vote for her deal.
Right now that looks unlikely - reflected by odds of 2/1 with William Hill that the Withdrawal Agreement passes through the Commons by 29/03/19 - but sentiment could change. May could yet secure some sort of game-changing legal concession regarding the Irish backstop. More likely, panic sets in among MPs as the threat of a no deal exit draws ever closer.
If the UK leaves, on time, without disruption to daily life, it could transform the narrative and public perceptions. May’s long lost ‘strong and stable’ tag would return and she would contrast favourably with the childish parliament that spent two years undermining her.
She would be free to choose her date of departure and some would even call for her to reverse plans to quit before the next election. The Tories are nowhere nearer rallying around an obvious successor and there is no appetite for another challenge. Remember, the earliest any challenge can be launched under party rules is December 2019. So if you think she’ll deliver on Brexit on time, 12/5 with Paddy Power about 2020 or later makes good sense.
In expectation of the Withdrawal Agreement failing, the odds about ‘No Deal’ have fallen to just 3/1 with Ladbrokes. There is evidently a majority in parliament in favour of intervening to prevent it but we cannot be certain how that process will play out. This is a scenario where Labour might plausibly bring down the government.
Predicting how the Cabinet will react or the implications for May’s leadership is far from straightforward. There would certainly be multiple resignations but apparently that doesn’t matter anymore. Would anyone else want, or be able to seize, the leadership in such circumstances?
The country may be in chaos and her party aflame but May will have fulfilled her role and that probably means staying on. At the very least, one would expect her to lead the party through the divisive leadership contest. That makes it hard to see any handover before July - an even money chance in Ladbrokes’ market.
Lastly, my prediction. For all May’s desperate efforts and Project Fear saturating the media, her Brexit deal loses. At this point, backbenchers take control of the process. First, they will vote to prevent no deal, which would mean revoking Article 50 unless the government secures an extension.
The government will then try for a referendum between May’s deal and no deal, but backbenchers amend it to include Remain. A new in/out referendum is scheduled for the autumn. The comments of May’s outriders such as Amber Rudd lead me to conclude that, whatever the current party line, another referendum is already being seriously considered.
This is all imminent - possibly before the end of January - and the upshot will be May’s departure. She could resign very quickly and be replaced before the end of March.
Carrying on, having broken her promise not to extend Article 50 let alone any referendum, would suit nobody. She will have betrayed the vast majority of Tory voters and members. Nobody will want her leading the Tories into that referendum campaign. Rivals will have no incentive to hold their fire.
The problem with betting on this option is that it is largely factored into the odds. That 4/9 to leave in 2019 would be landed with months to spare. Ladbrokes offer odds on the specific month - 10/1 about March could look a big price when the drama resumes after Christmas.
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