Theresa May has time-limited her premiership in an attempt to save it. She told the 1922 Committee this evening that, ‘In my heart I would have liked to lead the party into the next election (partly because of what happened last time). But I realise that the party would like a different leader to take them into that election.’ I am told that this was the most emotional and personal part of her speech.
In the questions, Adam Holloway pressed her on what would happen if an election happened within the next 12 months—the period from which May will be immune from a leadership challenge if she wins tonight. I am told that her answer was simply that it was her job to ensure that there wasn’t an election in this time. May also made clear at the start of the meeting that she would not be calling a snap election as a way out of this Brexit impasse.
May talked about her service to the party and Tory values, which she listed as security, freedom, aspiration and opportunity. She then moved on to how she would try and fix relations with the DUP. She acknowledged that it wouldn’t be a success to pass a Brexit deal, only to find you couldn’t govern afterwards. She said she wanted a deal they could support, and that she had had a good meeting with Arlene Foster earlier. But, as several of her supporters acknowledge, she provided no detail on how she’d get the DUP back on board.
I am told that the questions were more negative than positive. May tried to calm tempers by slapping down Philip Hammond for his no deal extremist comments earlier today, saying ‘there are no extremists in this party’. Interestingly, when David TC Davies asked why the Cabinet hadn’t got the country more ready for a WTO Brexit, May stressed that there were a range of views in the party about what should happen if her deal can’t pass. She also emphasised the parliamentary difficulties of getting to no deal—this might be right, but several in the room thought this was an odd emphasis with a leadership vote half an hour away.
Perhaps, the most cutting question came from Lee Rowley who praised the Prime Minister for her determination before saying ‘stamina is not a strategy.’
Theresa May began her speech by saying ‘good morning’ rather than good evening. But as she left the room, she looked happier than when she went in. But there was a sense from MPs that this wasn’t a barnstorming performance. There is still, though, a very strong expectation that she’ll win the vote; with nearly all the speculation now about whether the rebels will breach three figures or not.