There had been a vague hope in No 10 that the long summer recess would give tired and grumpy Conservative MPs some time to relax, rejuvenate and heal old wounds. Alas the break only led to more feuding and when Parliament returns on Tuesday, Theresa May comes back to a party even more divided over Brexit than it was when she set off on her walking holiday.
May’s old foe Boris Johnson makes the front of the Daily Telegraph with an assault on the Chequers plan. The former foreign secretary says the ‘scandal of Brexit is not that we failed, but that we have not tried’:
‘The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is a victory for the EU, with the UK lying flat on the canvas and 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious head.’
Meanwhile, the Times reports that 20 Brexiteer MPs are making a public commitment to ‘StandUp4Brexit’ and scupper her proposals. On Sunday, David Davis – the former Brexit Secretary – said he would vote against May’s deal when it comes to Parliament – expected now around November.
On the other side of the debate, Nick Boles has joined the chorus of naysayers. The Conservative MP – and close ally of Michael Gove – says he will not support Chequers. However, what he has in mind is a temporary stay in the EEA. This is something many Brexiteer politicians, such as Davis’s former SpAd Stewart Jackson, have ruled out as unacceptable. Meanwhile, George Freeman – seen as a Conservative moderate – has responded to the Prime Minister’s Sunday Telegraph article insisting there will be no second referendum by suggesting a ‘People’s Vote’ could be the order of the day.
It follows that, as things stand, it’s near impossible to see how May gets her Brexit deal through Parliament – even if there were no more compromises (and everyone assumes there will be). It’s also hard to see how with the hung Parliament there are the numbers for any form of Brexit deal. Hence why ‘no deal’ remains highly likely.
A large chunk of Tory MPs now assume that barring a significant turn of events May won’t get Chequers through. What they are less sure about is how long she can cling on. There are reports that Boris Johnson – with the help of his friend and election strategist Lynton Crosby – will join a ‘stop Chequers’ campaign on the eve of Tory conference. If the mood in the party is febrile, it only takes one or two bad moments for a chain of events to begin which could lead to a ‘no confidence’ vote.
In order for Theresa May to even get to the point of bringing back a deal from Brussels, she must make headway at the EU27 meeting this month, get key Brexit legislation through and make it through what should be a bruising party conference. Judging by the in-fighting one day before Parliament even returns, that will be an achievement in itself.