Theresa May fights for survival as Brexit talks start

Theresa May has just survived what must undoubtedly the worst ten days of her political career and the next ten offer little respite.

The Prime Minister is fighting on a number of fronts as she tries to command the country and her party in the wake of that crushing election defeat that has left her leadership in freefall and her credibility in tatters.

It will be a crunch week for her as she struggles to get her premiership back on track amid rumours that she could face an imminent leadership challenge.

And she will have to deal with the fallout of the van attack near the Finsbury Park mosque, which she said is being treated “as a potential terrorist attack”.

In her in-box this week – a major speech on Wednesday at the start of the Queen’s Speech, where she will set out her legislative programme for the next two years.

MPs won’t actually vote on it until June 28, but her benches will be watching her closely – every performance a test of her mettle after her faltering response to the Grenfell Tower disaster last week.

There is also the matter of the DUP confidence-and-supply deal that still needs to be nailed down.

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No 10 are confident that the Irish unionists will vote with Mrs May, giving her an expected majority of around 13 – but she has yet to reach agreement.

That deal is complicated by the wider politics of Northern Ireland, amid concerns that the deal with the DUP could hamper efforts to re-establish the stalled power-sharing executive at Stormont: to that end, the Prime Minister will on Monday meet the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Downing Street.

“We will discuss Northern Ireland and the need to re-establish devolved Government, and Brexit, focusing on how we can avoid any adverse impact on the rights and freedoms of our citizens, on trade and the economy,” Mr Varadkar said ahead of his bi-lateral.

Then of course, is the start of Brexit talks, the Tories’ fragile peace holding over the weekend after her chancellor confirmed that there would be no rowing back on the promise to leave the single market and customs union.

But those tensions will no doubt rise once more when the tussles over Britain’s EU exit bill and the future deal begin in earnest.

Brexit Secretary David Davis
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Brexit Secretary David Davis will lead divorce talks in Brussels

:: Labour claims Brexit ‘disarray’ on eve of talks in Brussels

Her MPs are in no doubt of her shortcomings – revealed in full technicolour during the election campaign, and then again last week when she initially failed to meet survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

“Everyone knows she’s not Mrs Emotional in public,” said one minister, adding that they thought she had the support of most of her party still.

But the stories about whether it’s time for Mrs May to go – and who might replace her – won’t dissipate.

There are suggestions that once leader contender David Davis might be put up as a caretaker Prime Minister, rather as Michael Howard was back in 2004. There’s talk of a “stalking horse” leadership challenge if she waters down Brexit – though there is no sign so far that she intends to do that.

Another senior party figure said allies of Boris Johnson were taking soundings from colleagues, which was playing quite badly with some MPs who are adamant that further Tory infighting would play badly with the public.

“She’s the only show in town,” said the MP. “The public don’t want to see us knifing each other.”

Mr Johnson’s team insist any suggestion he’s on manoeuvres is “completely false”. “Boris is supporting the Prime Minister and anyone doing this sort of thing is not acting with his knowledge or support,” they say.

While some in the party believe the Prime Minister is now a busted flush, opinion seems to be coalescing around the view that now is not the right time to change leader.


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As Philip Hammond, the chancellor put it on Sunday: “I think what the country needs now is a period of calm while we get on with the job in hand.

“We’ve got one very serious issues to address, including the Brexit negotiations just starting. Theresa is leading the Government and I think the Government needs to get on with its job.

“And do you know what? I think actually that’s what most people in this country will think – that the Government just needs to get on with the day job of Government.”

Getting on with the job has become her new mantra as grand designs give way to hand to mouth survival.

How long she stays in No 10 depends on her party, but for most MPs her continued leadership remains the least worst option – for now.


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