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Theresa May prepares to go to battle over Brexit

PUBLISHED: 19:27 09 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:29 10 July 2018

Prime minister Theresa May with now-former foreign secretary Boris Johnson
Photo: PA / Leon Neal

Prime minister Theresa May with now-former foreign secretary Boris Johnson Photo: PA / Leon Neal

PA Wire/PA Images

After a day of high drama in Westminster, Political Editor RICHARD PORRITT analyses what might happen next as Brexit chaos engulfs the government

Prime Minister Theresa May updates MPs in the House of Commons on the Chequers Brexit plan
Photo: PAPrime Minister Theresa May updates MPs in the House of Commons on the Chequers Brexit plan Photo: PA

She stumbles on.

Beaten, battered and bruised but Theresa May somehow stumbles on. And she might just end up victorious.

The late-night resignation of Brexit secretary David Davis followed by that of foreign secretary Boris Johnson will prove to be a turning point.

Since becoming prime minister Mrs May has fudged her way out of numerous tight spots. She has always just about managed to get herself over the line and save her own skin.

Finally last week in her country retreat Chequers she squared up to the Brexiteers in her cabinet. She finally told her critics to “put up or shut up”. They may have quit but don’t expect them to be quiet.

Now the Brexiteers face a difficult choice: do they challenge the prime minister or not? They might be desperate for one of their own to be in Number 10 but the fact is they are unlikely to have the numbers to force Mrs May from office even if they did manage to spark a leadership campaign.

If Mrs May fought a challenge – as Number 10 sources claim she would – and won they will have played their last card. And because of Tory party rules she would be safe for another year.

But it appears Mr Johnson is readying himself for a fight. Unlike Mr Davis – and his junior minister Steve Baker who also resigned – Mr Johnson has not repeated the mantra that he backs the prime minister but not the policy. His letter to Mrs May was a deeply personal attack stating the UK faced becoming a “colony” of the EU.

East Anglia’s MPs offered a mixed reaction to the Brexit chaos at the heart of government.

Tory Broadland MP Keith Simpson said: “There is an element of Carry on Camping about all of this. Theresa May just puts her head down like someone in a thunder storm and carries on, she doesn’t seem to show any fear or trepidation.

“Boris has blown it with regards to his desire to lead the party. People like me would never have voted from him anyway but a lot of the hard-nose Brexiteers just say he was useless – he resigned too late.

“As usual with Boris he dithers. The caravan has moved on. The younger generation of MPs are looking for a leader in a year or two year’s time beyond the usual suspects.”

North Norfolk Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb added: “It’s a shambles. Her authority is completely diminished. I’ve been saying for ages that we are heading for a political crisis and I think this is the start of it. I can’t see how she can reconcile the irreconcilable.

“She is in an impossible position and her statement to parliament was not convincing. The danger is for the country because business needs certainty. After a hint of a possible way forward on Friday for it to disintegrate is extraordinary. None of this takes in to account the response from the EU.

“This reinforces the case for the public to have the final say.”

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis called the current situation “chaos, mayhem and disarray” adding: “As business investment is delayed and the clock ticks down this government, in our country’s hour of need, is imploding in on itself.”

But there were also words of encouragement. Colchester’s Conservative MP Will Quince said: “People are jumping the gun. We have got to see what content is actually in that White Paper when it is published. At the meeting of the ‘22 committee the prime minister had a huge amount of support. She has to deliver the practicalities of Brexit and I have absolute confidence in her ability to achieve that.”

North West Norfolk Conservative Sir Henry Bellingham said: “I am disappointed about Boris, but it was a principled resignation. However, Theresa May now has to remain strong and move on.

“The silver lining is that she can now appoint a new foreign secretary who will be 100pc supportive both in cabinet and across the country as a whole.”

And Norwich North Tory Chloe Smith added: “The prime minister is leading a sensible, pragmatic way forward. It means we deliver the referendum result and go for a deal that is right for the UK.

“People want the government to get on with Brexit, and that’s what’s happening. The prime minister is acting in the national interest and getting on with it.”

The next 24 hours is crucial though. If – as some sources claim – Mr Johnson has lined up further colleagues to inflict yet more damage on Mrs May anything could happen.

Mr Johnson has nothing to lose now. He is desperate to be prime minister but that hope is fading. What is to stop him taking the nuclear option and trying to unseat the prime minister? His only option now might be to indulge in yet more of the chaos he has become infamous for leaving in his wake.

Expect Mrs May to be up for the fight – she is no quitter.

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