Beware the Ides of December


To many people, the mention of a Prime Minister standing down, would bring to mind the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. However, that of John Major is probably more pertinent to the present day situation with Theresa May.

The Independent analysed the survival in office of John Major in 1994, and listed a number of ways to get rid of a Prime Minister. Here is a brief comparison of those ways, applied to Theresa May in 2018.


In 1994

Backbench sentiment would have to be overwhelming for Sir Marcus Fox (then Chairman of the 1922 Committee), to deliver such a message – and the only way to gauge that is by a leadership contest.

Verdict for Major: Just possible (particularly if combined with ‘sudden illness’) but potential assassins lacked the killer instinct.

In 2018

For May: Her unscrupulous use of the honours system and her inside knowledge from her time in the Home Office, would deter the arrival of Grey Suits at the back door of No 10.

Chance 3/10


The same exit as Anthony Eden after Suez or Arthur Balfour in 1911.

Porcinus, Going Postal

In 1994

Verdict: Just possible but it would be out of character for Major.

In 2018

For May: She is in denial of, or unaware of, the link between stress and being a Type 1 Diabetic, but there are clear indications of a mental defect in May’s behaviour. These are illustrated by her odd gyrations in public; attempting to dance with African children when she has no sense of rhythm, making a Mexican Wave totally out of sync with the crowd and making an entrance at her Party Conference which was worthy of a Monty Python sketch.

Chance 5/10

Porcinus, Going Postal


In 1994

After more political humiliations, senior Cabinet ministers threaten to resign unless Mr Major goes.

Verdict: Highly unlikely; most ministers prefer the devil they know.

In 2018

For May: She has surrounded herself with nodding sycophants and the effect of this option for removal, has been reduced by earlier resignations (Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab etc ) so unlikely. The pro-BREXIT Ministers left in her Cabinet are keeping their powder dry, probably until a Vote of No Confidence.

Chance 4/10


Large numbers of Tory MPs vote against the Government on an important motion or piece of legislation.

In 1994

Comment: The precedent most often quoted is that of Neville Chamberlain who, in what amounted to a vote of confidence, saw his Commons majority reduced from 200 to 80 in 1940. But Mr Major’s majority is too small to allow a significant rebellion without precipitating a General Election – which, given the party’s present standing in the polls, Tory MPs would be desperate to avoid.

In 2018

This is almost an exactly similar situation as Chamberlain in 1940 in terms of MPs intentions, but May does not have a majority and with > 96 Conservative MPs voting against her Withdrawal Bill, she must lose the First Vote on the Bill (against 96 Conservative MPs,  DUP, SNP and Labour).

There are therefore four scenarios for May –

(I) Lose the Vote in the House on 11th December 2018 – decline to resign and remain Leader.

(ii) Lose the Vote in the House on 11th December – resign as Leader and therefore Prime Minister.

(iii) Win the First and lose the Second Vote – resign as Leader and therefore Prime Minister.

(iv) Win the Vote – remain Leader and Prime Minister.

For May, her demonstrated ability to “listen but not hear” means that (ii) & (iii) are not automatic.

Also (iii) is unlikely to happen anyway, from Reference C :

“it is possible that the Government could decide to make a second attempt to secure the Commons consent for the agreements*. This scenario could also arise, in theory, even if no statutory provision for approval was enacted. But the same proposition cannot normally be put to the House twice in the same session. In political reality, the Government has said that non-approval in the Commons would cause the negotiations to fall.”

* Agreements are both the “Withdrawal Agreement” AND the “Political Declaration” on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, as endorsed by leaders at a special meeting of the European Council on 25 November 2018.

Chance 6/10


Eurosceptic ministers decide that they can no longer stomach government policy towards Brussels and walk out.

There are about 130 or so Ministers in May’s cabinet, including Junior Ministers and those from the House of Lords.

It would require at least 30 to resign en masse to even trigger a reaction from May; such is her dismissive, cerebral confidence in her ability to overcome all obstacles,  as evidenced by her taking over the role of BREXIT negotiator without informing her Minister or Cabinet.

Chance 5/10

Porcinus, Going Postal


In 1994

Criticism of Major’s leadership reached such a pitch that he chose to resign as party leader in June 1995, challenging his critics to either back him or challenge him; he was duly challenged by John Redwood but was easily re-elected.

By this time, the Labour Party had abandoned its socialist ideology and moved to the centre under the leadership of Tony Blair and won a large number of by-elections, eventually depriving Major’s government of a parliamentary majority in December 1996.

Major went on to lose the 1997 general election five months later,

In 2018

One of the most likely strategies for getting rid of May, is to just vote her down from within her own Party, following the loss of the BREXIT Withdrawal Agreement Meaningful Vote.

However, although the Chairman of the 1922 Committee needs only receive 48 Letters of No Confidence in May. A significant number of the remaining Conservative MPs (316-48 = 268) would have to join the 48 to oust her.

It would  undoubtedly be a night of the long knives, because unlike Thatcher, May would not surrender gracefully.

Her Whips would be instructed to offer Peerages, KBEs, DBEs, Governorships of Outposts, Quango Appointments, Directorships, Smarties for life, Blue Peter Badges……….. in exchange for votes, it would become a Christmas bonanza not seen since the five Golden Tickets in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Chance 7/10

Porcinus, Going Postal


A no confidence vote was last successfully used on 28 March 1979, when the minority government of James Callaghan was defeated in a confidence motion which read “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”.

In 2018

Should the Leader of the Opposition choose to initiate a Motion of No Confidence; then by convention, a no confidence vote will take precedence over normal Parliamentary business for that day and will begin with Speeches from the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition

A no confidence vote can have the effect of uniting the ruling party; for this reason such motions are rarely used and successful motions are even rarer. Before 1979 the last successful motion of no confidence occurred in 1924.

This is not the case today; May does not have a majority, should the DUP vote with the opposition parties, then the Government would lose a vote of no confidence.  This means the government would have 14 days in which to win a vote of confidence and if not a General Election is held.

Observers will bear in mind that the indications are that losing the Vote of No Confidence, would not necessarily cause May to resign as Leader of the Conservative Party and if a 1922 Committee had already held a Conservative Party Leadership election which May had won, she could linger like Gollum in his cave, for another 12 months in the post.

The Conservative Party would almost certainly lose any 2019 General Election, should May still be their Leader because both Remainers and Leavers would react against her personally negotiated version of BREXIT.

This means that the Leader of the Opposition will be watching the actions of the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, as closely as a hungry, but arthritic trout waits to take an increasingly weakened and isolated Mayfly.

Chance 8/10

Porcinus, Going Postal

BREXIT – Of course all of the above mention of BREXIT is moot, following this point by the very worthy Mr Bill Cash MP:

“ The Withdrawal Agreement is incompatible with the Withdrawal Act 2018 which repeals the whole of the European Communities Act 1972.

This agreement, being only a treaty, cannot override the statutory provisions of the 2018 Act and is therefore unlawful.”

Finally, if May is still in post in the New Year:

From Chatham House / Prospect

There is actually a UK legal requirement that the government reach an agreement with the EU by 21 January 2019. In the absence of an exit deal, the UK parliament could put pressure on the government to change course – it is not clear how the prime minister would survive such a vote.

But even if the UK and the EU did reach an agreement by January 2019, there is no guarantee that the UK parliament would support it. Worse still, if it did reject the deal, it is hard to see how both sides could negotiate and ratify new exit terms by March 2019.

According to Article 50, talks can be extended beyond the two-year negotiating framework, although this would require the approval of all 27 member states as well as the UK. But politically, this might prove complicated.

First, it is unclear how long talks would be extended for. The EU parliament elections are planned for May 2019, so a Brexit vote would need to take place either before the elections or after a new parliament is in place. The elections will also lead to the appointment of a new commission in the autumn, possibly even a new president. The EU may be reluctant to vote before the end of the year.

Second, it is unclear what would happen to the transition period. Currently, the transition is due to end at the end of 2020, at the same time as the current EU budget. During this time, the UK would continue to be part of the single market and customs union – although it would have no formal say or vote over new EU legislation. As a consequence, the UK may be asked to contribute to the new EU budget if it wanted to continue accessing the single market and customs union beyond 2020. It is hard to see how UK politicians would accept this.

When voting takes place depends largely on how quickly the UK and the EU reach an agreement. If they fail to reach a deal by 21 January 2019, or if the UK parliament rejects it, then frankly, all bets are off.

References :-

  1. The Independent -STEPHEN CASTLE, Sunday 3 April 1994 00:02
  2. Wikipedia
  4. Quote By Mr Bill Cash MP

© Porcinus 2018

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