‘She’s safe until September’. That’s the verdict on Theresa May of one of those who knows the Tory parliamentary party best, I write in The Sun this morning.
Number 10 want to use the summer to try and turn opinion around on Mrs May’s Chequers plan. Under consideration, is a plan for her to do events at various venues around the country to try and convince voters of the merits of it.
Every Cabinet Minister has been told that they must devote one day over the summer to selling Chequers, including doing broadcast interviews on it. Ministers are already watching closely to see how Esther McVey, the Welfare Secretary, and the Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who are known sceptics of the scheme, handle this request.
Some in government also think that putting out more information on what ‘no-deal’ would mean will help persuade people that the alternative to the Chequers plan is worse. I am told that these notices won’t increase public confidence, as they’ll reveal the ‘paper and string’ nature of much of the government’s no-deal prep.
Everyone expects the EU to come back asking for more concessions. Number 10 is adamant that it won’t make another big move in its negotiating position until it sees some movement from the other side. But the EU will push for more as Michel Barnier made clear on Friday via a series of pointed questions about the plan.
This is when things get dangerous for May, as two separate groups could challenge her leadership . First, there are the Brexiteer ultras. They are already deeply unhappy about Chequers. But they know that they don’t have the number to defeat May now. However, many of them reckon that they will have a good chance of toppling her if she gives more ground in September.
The second is a group of party grandees who believe that more compromise will be necessary to get a deal. But they fear that Mrs May will be unable to deliver that. So, they argue, what’s needed is a new Prime Minister with Brexiteer credentials who would have the political capital to make an agreement with the EU.
I can report that in one meeting this week, it was claimed that 130 Tory MPs were ready to vote against Mrs May in a confidence vote. Now, others in the room regard this number as an exaggeration. But, interestingly, they think the number is close to three figures.
September will test her survival skills like nothing else.