Grant Shapps didn’t want to be “embarrassing for Theresa May at all” with his plan to bring together enough MPs to force her out. “The plan was actually to do it entirely quietly; and do it without publicity,” he insisted. But that hasn’t stopped him from talking to The Times, Bloomberg, Talk Radio, BBC 5 Live, BBC Breakfast, BBC Daily Politics, ITV and Sky News about it.
The former Tory party chairman suggested he had “perhaps up to 30” names, and that he hoped to the mere presentation of this list to Downing Street would serve as a political death warrant for Mrs May- forcing her to go quietly. But his approach showed “glaring weaknesses”, Tory MP Mark Pritchard thought, namely that rebels “just didn’t have the numbers they had spun”. The backlash has been swift, with other Tories have piling in with variations of “shut up Shapps”. Meanwhile Charles Walker, vice-chair of the 1922 committee – the group to which MPs are meant to write if they want to change their leader – said the plotting would “fizzle out”. Theresa May sought to draw a line under it by boasting of her Cabinet’s “full support” in her mission to deliver “calm leadership”.
The Shapps plot may soon fizzle out, but the Prime Minister needs her leadership to ignite in order to show critics she can bounce back from her conference embarrassment. She will not be helped by the news that China is prioritising a visit by Donald Trump over her long-awaited trade mission, pushing back a chance for her to represent Britain on the world stage. Mrs May has a new round of Brexit negotiations to oversee next week, which may not see much progress as – we report – that Britain is refusing to shed any more light over how much it is ready to pay as a financial settlement until the EU allows talks to include the issues of the transition and trade. British negotiators will work on the matter of citizens’ rights, with Oliver Robbins presenting ideas on how to give the European Court of Justice what Michel Barnier calls an “indispensable role” in enforcing the Brexit deal, without crossing the UK’s red lines on sovereignty.
However, the last few days have not gone unnoticed in Brussels. Senior EU diplomats have told the Telegraph that Boris Johnson’s bombastic interventions have undermined their confidence that Mrs May can deliver on what she says. She is in a tricky situation, as if she wants to make progress on Brexit, she’ll need to restore her authority. But if she wants to reassert her authority, she’ll have to make progress on Brexit.
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