DAN HODGES on how Phillip Hammond and Amber Rudd could make Corbyn PM
The No 10 official didn’t need to wait for Friday’s vote.
‘We’re going to lose. And when that happens we’re heading for a General Election.
Inside Downing Street, something has finally snapped. The dogged resilience that has characterised May’s attempts to drag her deal over the line has finally given way to fury.
Chancellor Phillip Hammond, pictured above, is one of ‘the Four Horsemen of the Corbynite Apocalypse’. In the eyes of May’s dwindling band of Cabinet allies, these are the true architects of the indicative vote process they believe is now driving Britain towards its first-ever Marxist Prime Minister
Partly at the Little Corporals of the ERG who are seen to have put personal vanity before actually delivering Brexit.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd is also in ‘the Four Horsemen of the Corbynite Apocalypse’ along with David Gauke and Greg Clark
Partly at Labour MPs who the Prime Minister believes have been putting on a show of potentially supporting her deal solely to burnish their anti-EU credentials to Leave-supporting constituents.
But primarily at members of her own Cabinet, who May thinks have been professing public loyalty but engaging in malicious private subterfuge.
And top of the list are the group described to me as ‘the Four Horsemen of the Corbynite Apocalypse’ – Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark and Philip Hammond.
In the eyes of May’s dwindling band of Cabinet allies, these are the true architects of the indicative vote process they believe is now driving Britain towards its first-ever Marxist Prime Minister.
‘They’ve pretended to back her,’ says one. ‘But all the time they’ve been working against her. If you look at the Ministers who resigned before the indicative votes motion on Monday, it was their allies. They were sending a signal that indicative votes were the way to go. And the result is they’ve bound her hands, and are going to deliver a Corbyn government.’
The No 10 view is there is now an inexorable path leading from indicative votes to a General Election and a Labour administration.
Unless MPs come to their senses, this week, the House of Commons will finally opt to kill off Brexit for good. This will probably be in the form of support for remaining in a customs union or single market, though some MPs believe there is still an outside chance of forcing through a second referendum.
At that point May will be ordered to return to Brussels and begin negotiations on a deal that directly undermines her manifesto pledge, something she has already said she will not countenance.
In the eyes of May’s dwindling band of Cabinet allies, these are the true architects of the indicative vote process they believe is now driving Britain towards its first-ever Marxist Prime Minister
‘She can’t do that,’ another Minister explains. ‘There’s no way she can be forced by the Commons to break her word. So it’s either an Election, or she walks. But if she walks, how can any other Tory leader get elected by pledging to just be a puppet of Dominic Grieve and Hilary Benn? Basically all routes lead to an Election.’
It is this reality that prompted May to deliver her stark warning to the Commons: ‘I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House.’
For their part, the Four Horsemen are perplexed by the argument that the shift to indicative votes has undermined the PM.
‘This is crazy,’ one tells me. ‘What do they think moved 82 Conservatives to back her deal in the end? It’s because of the threat the indicative votes process created.’
Another says: ‘The plan wasn’t going to be indicative votes. We were all agreed we were going for a long extension. The PM argued for a long extension in Cabinet.
‘And it was working. The DUP were coming on board. Labour MPs were coming on board. Then she woke up and said, ‘Actually, I’m going for a short extension’, gave that speech attacking every MP in the Commons, and the whole thing fell apart.’
The man who shot down May…in his Dad’s flying jacket
Tory MPs were desperate for the Men In Grey Suits to tell Theresa May it was time to announce she was standing down as Prime Minister.
But at the end of the day, I understand it was one man in a weathered flying jacket who undertook the onerous task.
‘It was Iain Duncan Smith who finally told her,’ a Minister says. ‘He pulled her aside at the end of Sunday’s Chequers summit and said he needed a private word.
‘He was standing there in his dad’s old flying jacket and said, ‘Sorry, Prime Minister, but time’s up now.’ ‘
And how did she take the news? ‘Not very well.’ You’re a braver man than me, IDS.
Brave: IDS arrives at Chequers last week in a Morgan sports car – and his dad’s old jacket
But despite this scepticism, there is now growing pressure on May from within Cabinet to think the unthinkable. ‘If the House votes for a customs union, then the Government needs to take that forward,’ one Minister tells me.
Another says: ‘If it is clear that the DUP are not going to back the deal, then we need to go for a customs union.’
No 10 is preparing a final, desperate throw of the dice. This week they will have one last go at getting May’s deal over the line. But if they fail, officials admit that it is game over.
‘The House will write a customs union into law,’ a senior Downing Street aide explains, ‘and the Prime Minister can’t disobey the law. So at that point the only way to save Brexit is an Election or a no-confidence motion in the Government.’
In Labour circles, there is less anticipation at this prospect than might be expected. ‘We’ve no written Election plan, no new policy positions and The Independent Group will take votes from us in classic marginal seats,’ one Shadow Minister tells me.
But there is no avoiding the fundamentals. The 2019 campaign will be fought against a backdrop of a Conservative Party tearing itself apart, having failed to deliver on its central pledge of withdrawing Britain from the EU, and with a new untested leader.
Unless Theresa May U-turns on her pledges to not fight another election or oversee the next stage of the Brexit process, in which case, as one Tory MP said: ‘I’ll be voting Labour myself.’
A pale horse is approaching the gates of Downing Street. Its rider’s name is Corbyn.
Remember Steve, Spartans may be tough but, ultimately, they lost
News that the ERG rebels have branded themselves The Spartans, after the 300 heroes of the famous battle of Thermopylae, has not impressed Downing Street.
‘It wasn’t just 300 Spartans who held out against 300,000 Persians,’ a No 10 history buff informs me.
‘They had hundreds of Thespians and Thebians with them. They were a Euro army. Plus, their state went into long-term decline after the battle, and they were soon outnumbered in Sparta by the Greeks.’
Any other lessons for Steve Baker and his gang? ‘Yes. The Spartans lost.’