Westminster Whispers: The Prime Minister may be on holiday, but she shouldn't relax

Theresa May and husband Philip on holiday in Italy last year. Image: Getty

Friday, July 27, 2018

Like exhausted commuters longing for a heatwave to finally end, we are nervously waiting for the mother of all storms to explode in British politics.

As MPs head off on their summer break, the high-pressure atmosphere that now characterises our politics will continue to brew.

There is no question that the thunderstorm will come. But when lightning strikes the government, will it finally bring the house down?

'May will be gone by Christmas unless she drops the Chequers proposal'

A leadership challenge to Theresa May in the Autumn is by no means unlikely. "She'll be gone by Christmas if we have anything to do with it unless she drops the Chequers proposal," one Brexit-backing Tory MP told me.

A parliamentary ally of the Prime Minister parries: "She'll be here at Christmas, we'll all be having a drink in Number 10 at Christmas. She'll stand down in her own time, it won't be before Brexit is delivered. If she's going it will be around March next year."

Meanwhile, campaigners plan to ramp up their calls for a second referendum. They face their own tests: is there a timetable, a groundswell of support and a plausible political route for such an intervention?

In Labour, splits over anti-Semitism and questions over the party's future direction on Brexit continue to trouble both the leadership and the membership.

Will May's Brexit plan still be intact in September?

Just as with this heavy heatwave, something has to give. And by September, we will have a much better idea of how the political weather will change.

The Prime Minister is in Austria today as part of a charm offensive to sell her Brexit plan - or rather, what remains of it.

The real question in Westminster is not: will Theresa May survive the summer? (That's so 2017).

talkRADIO's political editor Ross Kempsell breaks down how sticky the summer will be for the Prime Minister

The real question is whether her Brexit plan will still be standing at all come September.

After the break, May's agenda will be dominated by the final Brexit deal. The calendar is short and time is running out.

Government sources know there will have to be a compromise of some kind if Theresa May is to get any deal - let alone the deal she has made it clear she would prefer.

A senior Tory MP talkRADIO: "Most of us are in the middle on the Chequers agreement - it's a White Paper, it's a holding statement. If the EU don't accept a pragmatic approach there will be no deal."

'Two breaks' no different to usual PM holidays

In the meantime, in the next few weeks, the PM will head on holiday to Italy and Switzerland.

Some commentators have made a fuss about her having 'two' breaks - but this year's plans are in the same format she has always taken her Prime Ministerial holidays.

She's returning to the UK between those vacations, and Downing Street says she will be in Number 10 and her constituency during that time.

Her team want to signal the sense that she remains in control. As usual, she hasn't named a particular minister to take charge in her absence.

But Theresa May knows that below deck the plotting will continue, and mutiny is only ever a matter of moments away.

The Prime Minister may well be on holiday, but she cannot afford to relax.