After last night’s marathon in the Commons, today comes the showdown as Cabinet ministers are summoned to a five-hour meeting during which anything could happen – and probably will.
Mature consensus is the one option that will be off the table, if the disloyal and indiscreet actions of several ministers in recent weeks and months are anything to go by.
Cabinet walkouts, mass resignations and a general disintegration of a once great party are among the many doom and gloom predictions being made today and for the days ahead. Quite simply the Tory Party appears to be falling apart and the rot has set in at the very top.
Prime Minister Theresa May leaving the House of Commons today after MPs fail to back proposals on alternatives to her EU withdrawal deal
Theresa May’s Cabinet has descended into open warfare between Brexiteer and Remainer ministers and is a complete and utter shambles.
For once, the Prime Minister’s blabbermouth Chief Whip Julian Smith was right when he described the Cabinet – of which he is a member – as ‘the most ill-disciplined in British political history’.
And what better example than Mr Smith himself. Last night, he was flashing his toothy grin at BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg as he launched into an unprecedented attack on his boss, Mrs May, for not having made it plain that she would ‘inevitably’ accept a softer Brexit after losing her majority in the 2017 election.
It is fair to say that Mr Smith’s own behaviour marks him out as the most ill-disciplined chief whip in modern political history – surrendering control over the parliamentary party, losing countless key votes, and breaking parliamentary convention.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (left) and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May listen as Britain’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) Stephen Barclay speaks in the House of Commons today following the outcome of the second round of indicative votes on the alternative options for Brexit
And if Mrs May had an iota of authority left, she’d sack the wretched man for gross misconduct and disloyalty.
Unfortunately, she is impotent and her Cabinet is the most indiscreet Britain has ever had.
Ordinary conventions have broken down completely. Normally, Cabinet ministers who defy the government whip would as a matter of course resign their posts, according to the doctrine of ministerial responsibility which has operated for centuries in British government.
Yet the so-called gang of four – Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Business Secretary Greg Clark, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Scotland Secretary David Mundell – defied the Tory whip on a vote on No Deal Brexit two weeks ago.
British MPs tried again to chart a new Brexit path today after rejecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for a third time, but the EU warned its patience was wearing thin. A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament
It was the crucial vote which opened the way to an extension of Article 50. If any of them had had an ounce of honour they would have resigned and the fact that not one of them did says it all.
More from Peter Oborne For The Daily Mail…
Overall, this has led to a devastating collapse of trust in and among the Cabinet that took hold last year and deteriorated further after Mrs May foolishly announced in December that she was going to step down before the next general election.
The Prime Minister’s utterance set in motion a beauty contest between those who saw themselves as her replacement, which is now reaching fever pitch. What little was left of collective Cabinet responsibility has all but evaporated.
The preening behaviour of several candidates has forced Number 10’s director of communications, Robbie Gibb, to issue a furious warning to three rival Tory leadership contenders – Miss Rudd, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, who frequently seems to be under the impression that she is taking part in a fashion shoot.
All three were rightly slammed for attempting to upstage Mrs May earlier this year by their briefings to newspapers and articles promoting their own initiatives when the Prime Minister was unveiling a £20billion boost to the NHS.
As for Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, he’s taken to having himself photographed between the Union Jack and a portrait of the great wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (left), Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May watch on as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks in the House of Commons today after MPs fail to back proposals on alternatives to Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal
Of course, it could be a complete coincidence that the ministers whose colourful Cabinet contributions get leaked – usually via media briefings by their special advisers – are those known to particularly covet Theresa May’s job and to be astute at cultivating the media.
Step forward Liz Truss, Sajid Javid and Gavin Williamson, closely followed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom. But there are some who buck the trend. I have yet to notice any major indiscretions from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. And while Chancellor Philip Hammond has not put himself forward as a candidate for the Tory Party leadership, he appears to be conducting himself with genuine discretion and honour.
But these are exceptions, not the rule. Generally, the conduct of Mrs May’s self-serving Cabinet is beneath contempt.
The idea of public interest is beyond them. They are only interested in promoting their own careers, furthering their own causes and ideology and to hell with the rest of us.
We are living through extraordinary circumstances. There has never been anything like Brexit, and hopefully there never will be again.
For now, we are forced to endure a never-ending tragi-farce. In the 1990s political TV thriller House of Cards, Machiavellian Tory Chief Whip Francis Urquhart’s famous stock reply to questions from the Press was: ‘You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.’
In the case of Julian Smith and many of his Cabinet colleagues it appears to be: ‘I couldn’t possibly resist commenting.’
The Cabinet is broken and with it this Government, too.