It had been bubbling under the surface for months, and this week it finally exploded. The Chequers Deal reached between Theresa May and her Cabinet held firm for just a couple of days before an extraordinary 24 hours struck, with Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, among others, resigning in protest over the deal, which they view as too ‘soft’ of a Brexit approach. The resignations were designed to do as much damage as possible to May, and Johnson’s resignation letter was vicious and theatrical, stating that the Brexit ‘dream is dying’, and arguing that the words on the new Cabinet hymnsheet ‘stick in the throat’. It was almost reminiscent of Geoffrey Howe’s elaborate attack on Thatcher in 1990, which of course, ultimately helped to bring her down.
Of course this is a blow for Theresa May, and witnessing her attempting to explain herself in the Commons less than an hour after Boris’s resignation made cringeworthy viewing to say the least. But now it is Friday and she is still standing, and that in itself is an achievement that a few days ago many did not believe she could manage. Perhaps this ‘bloody difficult woman’ is stronger than her detractors believed. What is more, the PM may be able to take firmer stances now that she doesn’t have to constantly worry about what the high profile Brexiteers in her Cabinet will think. Yes, Johnson and Davis will now be ‘outside the tent peeing in rather than inside the tent peeing out,’ so to speak, but let’s face it, they were peeing everywhere anyway.
The dynamics of the Conservative Party will change now, with the hardest of Brexiteers suddenly confined to the back benches. If Theresa May continues to pursue the sort of Brexit outlined in the Chequers deal, then we may end up with a situation where she is forced to rely on moderates from other Parties supporting her in order to fill the gap in votes left by her own backbench rebellions. That will not be easy, but it might be easier than trying to unite the likes of Anna Soubry and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Whatever the PM chooses from here, she will know more than ever that the vultures are circling and baying for blood. Tread carefully, Mrs May.