Theresa May Needs to Beware Parliamentary Plots

(Bloomberg) --

Theresa May’s problem, as she looks to opposition parties for support on Brexit, is they could be laying a trap.

On the face of it, the prime minister’s next step is clear. The Labour Party supports a Brexit solution based around a customs union with the European Union. So if she opted for one, she could secure most of their 256 votes and get a deal through Parliament -- even without winning back any of the 118 Conservatives who voted against her Tuesday.

Yet there are two problems with this strategy. First, moves to soften Brexit could drive away even more Conservatives. So any concessions she makes to Labour must gain more votes than those she loses from her own side.

Second, there’s a risk of softening Brexit so much that outraged hardline Tories announce they’ve lost confidence in their own government. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could call another confidence vote and win it, getting the general election he wants.

Meanwhile three of Britain’s smaller opposition parties are preparing a move of their own, according to one person familiar with their discussions. Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats -- with 50 members of Parliament combined -- are drafting a letter to Corbyn saying they won’t support any more no-confidence votes after Wednesday’s.

That’s because what they really want is a second referendum on Brexit, something Corbyn won’t back while a general election is still a possibility. Ruling out support in further no-confidence motions might nudge him to their position, in theory at least, that much faster.

All of which explains why, as the Brexit clock ticks down, no one’s actions should be taken at face value.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.