When Theresa May envisaged herself giving a statement in the Commons on the Cabinet agreement made at Chequers, she didn’t expect to do so with her Brexit Secretary and Foreign Secretary no longer by her side. And so it was after a morning of high drama, a lonely Prime Minister this afternoon had to face questions from a divided party over a Brexit position she yesterday thought her Cabinet agreed upon.
It wasn’t a pleasurable experience for the beleaguered Prime Minister. Labour’s Kevin Brennan asked May whether the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg was right that 48 letters had been sent calling for a ‘no confidence’ vote. May simply said she was getting on with her job. Despite a number of hostile questions from Tory Brexiteers like Andrea Jenkins and John Baron, No 10 can at least take heart that there were some who did their best to support her and make helpful points. Tory grandee Nicholas Soames was one such. Given that he has previously supported Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions, that was an encouraging sign.
Away from the Chamber, it seems as though although the party is divided, the bulk of Tory MPs are so far holding firm behind the Prime Minister. One such MP – who veers towards Remain – says that the fight is on but they are ready to do what it takes to win it. They’ve never been big on May but right now think she is by far the least worst option. This is a feeling that has been echoed by a number of Tory MPs I have spoken to, few have the appetite for a Tory leadership now – let alone an early election.
But will they get their wish? Everything seems very up in the air. Theresa May has had to delay the publication of the Brexit white paper. Momentum is growing among one camp of Tory Brexiteers to fire off those 48 letters and call for a confidence vote. Were there a leadership contest, they now have two viable Brexit candidates in David Davis and Boris Johnson. Whether it comes to that depends on how febrile the party mood gets.
Tonight Theresa May must address the 1922 committee. It’s the committee of backbench Tory MPs that have propped her up and shielded the Prime Minister from trouble in the past. The speech she gives tonight could be the most important of her premiership.