Theresa May is being urged not to resign until close to the next election amid fears a power struggle could spell the end of the Tory party. Conservatives worry a leadership battle would also be disastrous for Brexit negotiations.
Senior Tory politicians fear that a pre-2021 resignation could see Brexit and its delicate negotiations destroyed, taking the Conservative party down with it. The next election must be held before June 2022, and Tory leadership elections usually take around four months.
The British PM is expected to have agreed the basic terms of the new EU-UK relationship by October 2018. A full trade agreement could take months longer, and may not be ready by the end of 2020 (at the earliest), meaning that if May jumps prior to this, senior party members fear her potential successors could abandon delicate agreements and trade deals to appease to the party’s widely Euroskeptic base.
“[May] will have to stay on indefinitely, not least because the government will fall if she goes,” one senior minister told The Times. “She has to stay until Brexit is completed because obviously it would become the most heated part of any leadership contest,” said pro-Brexit backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The attitude shift comes in stark contrast to views expressed only last week that May would not survive past Christmas. “She is not one to up sticks and leave,” one cabinet minister said. “I’m confident that she will go on long beyond when many people expect. There is no clean and simple moment when she will or can leave. I think the leadership contest will be pushed back and back.”
May is also expected to stave off a cabinet reshuffle, which was expected in the new year, in order to stop any major disruptions before trade talks with the EU ramp up in March.
“A reshuffle is not a card any PM can play too often, so you should only do one when you really have to,” a close ally to May told The Sun. “They have a habit of creating more problems than they solve, so there is a growing feeling not to rock the boat now Theresa is looking more solid. We will also get an undoubted kicking at the locals in May, so we’ll need something to regain the initiative after them.”
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