Article 50 will be triggered next week, and there will be no election to interfere
It is weeks since the prime minister posed for the US Vogue photographer Annie Leibovitz in January. The images released today that portray her sitting, hair blown off her face as if riding into battle, coincided aptly with two announcements that emerged from Downing Street which underline how she has recovered authority in the week since the humiliating defeat on a key budget proposal. The first was that the letter triggering article 50 will be sent next week, on 29 March, starting the two-year countdown to Brexit. Within 24 hours of receiving it, Donald Tusk, the European council president, will publish the draft negotiating guidelines to the 27 member states. The preliminaries in the Brexit process are over.
The second was that there really won’t be a general election before this parliament’s five-year term expires in 2020. Number 10’s denial was as firm a denial as could be given. Within minutes of the announcement, the latest Guardian/ICM poll came out putting the Tories on 45%. That is a 19-point lead over Labour, almost the biggest lead ever in this ICM series, and the biggest it has shown since the early 1980s. Not even last week’s rapid climbdown in the face of backbench pressure over national insurance contributions for the self-employed, only days after the budget, has dented either the Tory lead, or voters’ opinions of its economic competence. Neither a prime minister unable to carry a key economic proposal, nor the wider impression of a government in office but not in power, has undermined support for the Tory party when the alternative is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.