Theresa May hasn’t been Prime Minister for 100 days yet but already she’s achieved what few other Tory leaders before her have done: get her eurosceptic backbenchers on board. In doing this, May will have made the likes of David Cameron green with envy. So how did she succeed in this task? It seems her speech on Sunday lived up to the high expectations of the Brexiteers and managed to warm even the stoniest of hearts among the traditional Tory troublemakers. In return, they’ve spent this year’s conference determined to sing the joys of May.
That show of support was on display last night from two of the biggest names in the Brexit band. Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood couldn’t have been clearer: they were fully behind Theresa May’s Brexit vision. Here’s what Rees-Mogg told an audience of Brexit backers at a Politeia fringe event:
‘What is such good news is that the Government has bought into this and has fleshed out Brexit means Brexit. And that is such good news because remaining in the single market is code for remaining in the European union. It would have given us the tariffs, so it is crucial and very good news’
John Redwood, no stranger to criticising the Government, also took on a different guise as he offered up warm words about the Prime Minister:
‘I thought the Prime Minster did a great job yesterday. She made a number of things clear. One, we are not doing a Switzerland or an EEA. Two, she said there would not be a second referendum. And three, she said she understood we wanted to leave because we wanted to be an independent democracy again.’
It’s worth remembering this is the same John Redwood who marked the new year by laying into May’s predecessor, penning a piece for the Express in which he questioned Cameron’s Tory credentials.
But there is no questioning of May’s leadership amongst the same group of backbenchers now. When one member of the audience referred to Theresa May as a ‘Remain’ Prime Minister, both Rees-Mogg and Redwood made their disapproval as obvious as they could: shaking their heads and saying that was all in the past. As Isabel Hardman pointed out yesterday on Coffee House, this shows the topsy-turvy nature of this year’s conference. The rebels are defending the Government; and the likes of Nicky Morgan are going on the offensive.
Theresa May now has the not insignificant task of fulfilling her promises. That's no easy job. But no matter how monumental the mission ahead of her, she can count her blessings that, at least for the time being, she's managed to win over the traditional troublemakers. Of course, that support isn't based entirely on good will. And if she fails to live up to her words, the warm mood on the backbenches could quickly go sour.