An ongoing attack on Theresa May’s authority is counterbalanced by significant support, both in her party and from Brussels.
The British prime minister appears to be regaining political momentum as she is clearly fighting for her premiership. The question over the following days is whether there will be a call for a vote of confidence, challenging her leadership of the Conservative Party.
Increasingly, this is becoming unlikely.
A day after two significant resignations by David Davis and Boris Johnson, a third prominent Brexiteer Michael Gove stepped in to affirm his support. Gove told ITV news that he would “absolutely not” resign, closing ranks with the prime minister.
The prime minister’s schedule is providing further scope for negotiations. She is to meet Donald Trump, there is a NATO summit, and she is due to meet her new cabinet. A move that would directly challenge her leadership does not seem imminent.
Still, it is still possible.
That was made clear on Tuesday as two vice chairs of the Conservative Party had quit in protest of Theresa May’s new Brexit proposal. Maria Caufield and Ben Bradley said that May’s proposal was bad for both the party and the country. Moreover, a few MPs are reserving the option of questioning Theresa May’s leadership, including Henry Smith, who declined an invitation to watch the England-Croatia match on Wednesday.
From the other side of the spectrum, business is stepping up to lend Theresa May credibility. The company that kicked off a round of criticism against the ignorance of the government when it comes to pan-European value chains, Airbus, stepped up in support of May. Airbus’ CEO Tom Enders hailed Theresa May’s plan for a Customs Union on goods – but not services – as a step in the right direction.
Equally significant, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that May’s new proposal could represent “a breakthrough,” as the UK showed the willingness to pass through some of its red lines. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped up on Tuesday to recognize that progress has been made. Perhaps most significantly, Michel Barnier stated that he was now “very ambitious” about a trade agreement with the UK.
May’s biggest test will come on Thursday, with the publication in black and white of her White Paper. It will then be up to Brussels to tilt the balance in May’s favour. In proposing a “common rulebook for all goods” as well as “continued harmonization” with EU rules, May risks her premiership. On Thursday, she will be needing all the support she can get from Brussels.