LONDON (Reuters) – Less than five months before Britain's departure from the European Union, the prime minister's parliamentary authorities, Theresa May, are on the lookout.
Chief Conservative whip Julian Smith leaves Downing Street in London, England, on November 6, 2018. Photo taken November 6, 2018. REUTERS / Simon Dawson
For the moment, the "whip" government, charged with ensuring that the Parliament supports any agreement on Brexit, that May is in agreement with Brussels, takes a soft approach. But whip leader Julian Smith and his team have at their disposal a powerful arsenal to force politicians to queue.
With an agreement likely to be submitted to lawmakers later this year, May's team and the whips she named are silently looking who could vote against, told Reuters several politicians.
Lacking a parliamentary majority, May is the hostage not only of her extremely divided Conservative party on the Brexit, but also of the North Irish party that supports her government.
That would have never been easy, but seems even more difficult after the resignation of Jo Johnson, Minister of Transport and brother of Brexit activist leader Boris Johnson. There are also suggestions that other members of the government could follow and that there could be a rebellion of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Until now, the tactics of whips show no sign of success.
To persuade them to support the government, eurosceptic conservatives have been coveted, including the office of May's Downing Street.
Others, including members of the opposition Labor Party, were invited to private meetings during which they were questioned and subjected to laborious explanations of the Prime Minister's position.
"I will not change my mind, no matter how good the dinner," said a conservative lawmaker anonymously, explaining that he had refused three invitations to Downing Street for such a meal.
"They are obviously trying to find people who they think could be malleable … but frankly, before they get to that point, they should be able to explain what the government is going to do. we have a clue. "
WHIPPED IN LINE
Government parties and opposition parties each have their own whip – a term that goes back to 1742 and is based on fox hunting. It refers to the "whip" of lawmakers to get them to attend votes and support the party line.
They also act as scrutineers of parliamentary votes and manage the twinning system with rival parties to ensure that genuine absences do not distort votes in parliament.
Smith outraged lawmakers in July when he told some Conservatives to break a twinning deal, in which May called it "honest misconduct". One of them then voted with the government at a key vote in Brexit, even as his liberal 'democrat' couple was missing because she had just given birth.
The tactics formerly used by the whips is a parliamentary legend. A series of votes on the Maastricht Treaty on strengthening European integration in the early 1990s has been the subject of reports of blackmail, threats to denounce legislative indiscretions and even physical "maneuvers" for get support.
Former Conservative Chief Whip Gavin Williamson kept a pet tarantula named Cronos on his desk named after the Greek god who ate his own children. He once said that he preferred the carrot to stick, "it's amazing to see what you can get with a sharp carrot".
Such practices have inspired television shows such as the British and American versions of House of Cards.
But for many parliamentarians, such behavior bears little resemblance to the reality of everyday political life. According to lawmakers, the biggest constraint on the vote on Brexit so far has been the promise made by budget sweeteners to seduce.
"They can make your life difficult," said a legislator, explaining how the whips had already denied him permission to stay away from Parliament for a family party because he would have missed a vote.
Whips may also threaten to place hesitant legislators on "boring procedural committees" or block any career advancement, another member of parliament said. Challenging a strict "three lines" whip may result in the temporary expulsion of a legislator from his party to Parliament.
The whips themselves must support the party line or leave.
May promised to give Parliament a say on Brexit, Britain's biggest foreign and trade policy change in decades. If lawmakers vote in favor of the deal, Britain could leave the EU without specifying the terms of his departure, which would create uncertainty for business and commerce and make it more likely that May's leadership challenge would be threatened. early elections.
May states that the agreement with Brussels is 95% complete, although the way to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the United States. Ireland, a member of the EU, remains a stumbling block in the negotiations and in his cabinet.
And even if it is difficult to win the support of its key ministers for any agreement, its main challenge will be to obtain the support of Parliament, where the divisions opened by the British referendum of 2016 to leave the EU have become deeply rooted.
In the lower house, which has 650 members, May has an active majority of 13 deputies only thanks to the support of DUP Northern Ireland. Their "trust and supply" agreement was negotiated by the whips of both parties after the June 2017 elections that resulted in a suspended parliament.
More than 50 conservative lawmakers said they rejected May's so-called Checkers plan and this past weekend, DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party could not support its proposals in the future. Current state of affairs. The Prime Minister may have to break with tradition and rely on the support of the Labor Party.
With "ink drying" on an agreement, as described by a eurosceptic legislator, spirits are becoming more and more concentrated.
"I could not support the Checkers' proposals, and they were further diluted by the negotiations with the European Union, so I will not be able to vote for the final agreement," said conservative legislator Andrew Bridgen. and partisan of Brexit.
He told Reuters that the agreement that is emerging would not allow Britain to enter into comprehensive trade agreements, including property, and that it would fail to return power to Parliament. " of unelected Eurocrats ".
Whips, whose work is largely behind the scenes and who do not give interviews, will have to crush a similar dissent for the vote to pass. For the moment, they do not indicate how they will proceed.
When asked if he would change his mind if the whips exerted pressure, Bridgen said, "I do not think the whips will try to get mad at me. They know from experience that it will not work. "
But other lawmakers say the heat will only be lit when an agreement will be reached.
"I think their conversations with their colleagues are a bit premature," said one of them. "But once we know what the government is going to do, most people will be in pretty fixed positions."
Reportage by Elizabeth Piper; Edited by Catherine Evans