Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May’s days are numbered as vultures circle Downing Street

How much longer can the Prime Minister remain at Number 10 if, yet again, Parliament throws out her Brexit withdrawal plan?

Theresa May said she “passionately believed” her Brexit deal addressed concerns raised by MPs (AP/Jean-Francois Badias)
Theresa May said she “passionately believed” her Brexit deal addressed concerns raised by MPs (AP/Jean-Francois Badias)

By Chris Moncrieff

Is the curtain finally going to close on Theresa May? Another wounding defeat on her much-maligned Brexit withdrawal deal now seems inevitable in the Commons today. But for how much longer can this unedifying saga continue?

The Prime Minister has firmly and bravely stuck to her plan in the face of the many slings and arrows her political opponents — and some of her so-called “supporters” — have continued to hurl at her.

But despite new warnings being issued by some of her friends about the possibly dire consequences of voting the measure down, yet again it seems likely their pleas will fall on deaf ears.

It is now becoming obvious that the House of Commons, with its present composition, may never accept her plan — or come up with a viable alternative.

But, throughout, May has demonstrated the mettle required for a Prime Minister struggling through politically charged and difficult times in sticking to her guns and confronting the fury of Westminster.

She has dealt not only with the overwhelming criticisms of her colleagues, but also with what appears to be a stubborn set of negotiators in Brussels.

Sometimes — but not often — they have uttered honeyed words, but their general attitude has been mulish, as if to warn any other EU states of what they might come up against if they expressed a desire to quit too.

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n With Theresa May on a distinct wobble, the small army of her would-be successors will already be oiling their bandwagons to ensure they are in perfect running order for a leadership contest — which they likely suspect could be sooner rather than later.

The usual suspects are in the frame, although I would stick my neck out so far as to suggest that neither Boris Johnson (above) nor Michael Gove will be the new tenants at Number 10.

Johnson was the face of the campaign to get Britain out of the EU and did little to disguise his disappointment with May’s Brexit plan, eventually resigning as Foreign Secretary over it.

He has long harboured leadership ambitions and is a big favourite with Conservative Party members, but he would first have to get the backing of enough MPs to make into the ballot of members.

Fellow Leave supporter Gove abandoned him at the 11th hour on his first bid for the leadership and put himself forward instead, prompting Johnson to withdraw.

Gove (top right) made a dramatic comeback in June 2017, when he returned to the Cabinet as Environment Secretary just a year after being sacked in May’s first reshuffle.

He has not ruled himself out of the race, but has played down speculation, saying it was “extremely unlikely” he would run.

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has also refused to rule out standing for the leadership. He resigned in November over what he described as “fatal flaws” in the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit agreement.

He has warned that if May continues as Prime Minister, there is a “greater risk of a Jeremy Corbyn government”.

Chancellor Philip ‘Spreadsheet’ Hammond is arguably too grey and tedious a figure to spark much enthusiasm from would-be voters.

One possible candidate, though, who should not be written off is Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons.

Unlike some of her Cabinet colleagues, Leadsom has been totally loyal to the Prime Minister throughout the recent traumatic parliamentary months we’ve been experiencing.

She is outspoken, fair and has won brownie points for standing up to Speaker John Bercow, who more than once has been insufferably offensive towards her.

Leadsom could well become the candidate who surprises all the other so-called “favourite” contenders.

It is probably premature to start laying firm bets, but May could soon be clinging on to power by just her fingertips.

n  Are these the most heartening words said yet among the millions uttered as the Brexit juggernaut trundles along on its seemingly endless journey?

Dr Liam Fox (above), the International Trade Secretary, said this the other day: “There is a world beyond Europe and there will be a time beyond Brexit.”

I am glad he thinks so, because I for one was beginning to wonder.

If he is right, it will at least give our MPs something fresh to squabble about, which would certainly be a relief.

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