“Cooler air will be flowing across Britain marking some respite from the current heatwave,” said the weather forecaster this morning. “But it will be getting hot again at the end of the week.”
If ever the weather were an analogy for the Conservative Party, this was it.
Last night as we waited for Theresa May to arrive at the 1922, I sidled up to Sir Graham Brady and showed him the BBC’s Laura Kuehnssberg latest tweet:
Whispers Tory MP s have reached the magic number of the 48 letters required to force a confidence vote – no way of knowing yet if true – meeting at 5.30
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) July 9, 2018
Graham told me he’d heard about it, that only he knew the numbers and it wasn’t true. I regained my seat and after an interval Graham got up and said “Look, before the meeting begins, I just want to make it clear that names and numbers are only known to me and if the magic number were ever reached, you would all be the first to know.”
A few minutes later, fresh from a two-hour stint of answering questions in the Chamber and, I hope, a refreshing cup of tea to rehydrate in the heat, Theresa May appeared to rapturous applause in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House. She got a standing ovation – a mixture of genuine affection and relief.
Only two and a half hours earlier as Gavin Williamson was answering Defence Questions, the Chamber had taken on a frenzied life of its own as MPs looked at their phones and started animated discussions, while ministers on the front bench looked on bemused. MPs were asking each other, would there be further resignations? Would the Government fall? Would Gavin be the next PM? Do we even want a leadership election?
Fast forward again to the 1922. A senior statesman summed it up by saying that he’s a Brexiteer, he doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of the Deal to the EU, but asked what difference will a new leader make anyway? He or she would still have to negotiate with the same old faces, Barnier, Juncker and the like, and the interests of the British business lobby. What would change?
And with that, cooler air blew in and any chance of a coup evaporated.
There will inevitably be troubles ahead. Despite positive meetings Theresa May has had with foreign leaders including Angela Merkel and civil servants have had with their counterparts in Brussels, it won’t all be plain sailing. While this preliminary work means that the offer won’t be rejected out of hand, there will be the familiar arm waving and negative comments from Juncker and Tusk.
There are bound to be compromises.
But Theresa May was clear at the 1922: we will leave the Single Market and Customs Union so open borders with Europe will end, there will be no more payments for access to the European market, we will be free to negotiate international trade agreements, and the European Court of Justice will no longer have authority in the United Kingdom. These are her red lines.
And she reiterated that planning for a No Deal, if the worst came to the worst, will be ramped up. That message will be heard in Brussels as loudly as it was at the 1922.
“Hot weather is likely to return over the weekend and carry on into August” the weatherman continued.
But by then, the plotters will be in Bermuda shorts and sandals in foreign climes.