Theresa May has raised eyebrows by insisting that she has the “full support” of her Cabinet, and that her concessionary Florence speech on Brexit “has given real momentum” to Britain’s negotiations with the European Union.
The prime minister made her remarks after being quizzed on an attempted leadership challenge lead by Grant Shapps, a europhile MP who was forced to resign as Conservative Party chairman after the Tatler Tory bullying scandal which resulted in a young activist’s suicide.
“Now, what the country needs is calm leadership, and that’s what I’m providing, with the full support of my Cabinet,” she said. “And next week I’m going to be updating MPs on my Florence speech, which has given real momentum to the Brexit talks.”
Pressed on whether she was concerned that Shapps might be able to drum up enough support to trigger a leadership challenge, the prime minister repeated her previous point in the somewhat robotic style which attracted so much criticism during the General Election campaign: “What I think is necessary for the country now, what the country needs, is calm leadership. That’s exactly what I’m providing, and I’m providing that with the full support of my Cabinet.”
— Fraser Nelson (@FraserNelson) June 1, 2017
The prime minister’s assessment of the Florence speech — which eurocrats gloated they had “pretty much dictated”, but did not occasion any concessions from Brussels — is not shared by everyone in the Tory Party, or indeed the wider Brexit movement.
“I think, if you are kind, you would say that the Prime Minister has made a generous offer and has now put it to the Europeans to respond,” was Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg’s polite assessment.
“If you were unkind, you would say there’s been a series of concessions whilst the European Union has not made a single concession.”
Former UKIP chief Nigel Farage was rather more forthright, lambasting the speech as “a sell out of our national interest, and a betrayal of Brexit”.
Farage has also said he hopes that, after May’s shambolic showing at the Tory conference in Manchester, “the Conservative Party start to say in public what they’re all saying to me in private; that [Theresa May] is a waste of space, she needs to go [and] we need a proper prime minister [to take on EU negotiator Michel Barnier]”.