James Forsyth James Forsyth

Why May must stay

She needs to reshuffle her team to give everyone who will run for leader a serious frontline job

Sometimes crises end simply because all of the participants are exhausted. Essentially, this is what has happened with the post-election Tory leadership crisis. No one has the energy for a fight, so Theresa May carries on as Prime Minister. Conservative MPs say it is now almost certain that she will make it to the summer break and will still be in place at party conference.

If the coronation of a new leader could be arranged, things would be very different. But it can’t be. From the great offices of state down, the Tories are simply too split – over both policy and personnel – for the succession to be resolved without a contest. A Cabinet whose Chancellor flies to Germany to attack the Foreign Secretary, as Philip Hammond did this week, is not one that is about to organise a seamless transfer of power.

The prospect of a leadership contest scares thoughtful Tories. It isn’t just the risk of a second general election putting Prime Minister Corbyn into No 10 — the greater fear is the divisions it would expose over Europe, the issue that has divided the Tories more than any other over the last 40 years. Any leadership contest would, inevitably, turn into a debate about what the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU should be. With Article 50 already triggered, there could be no fudging: the candidates would have to give clear answers. But a leadership contest that was defined by the European question could split the Tories for good.

These facts of political life are not going to change between now and Brexit, which makes an increasing number of Tories think that keeping May in place is the least worst option. It would minimise party splits over Brexit and leave her to absorb the political angst unleashed by the deal.

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