Bernard Ingham: These are the reasons why Theresa May is still standing

Theresa May arriving in Downing Street earlier this week.
Theresa May arriving in Downing Street earlier this week.
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THIS column comes to you with a health warning. Long before I vowed to look on the bright side this year I was a well-known supporter of lost causes – to wit, Crystal Palace, Halifax Town (as was), Burnley and Halifax RLFC.

You may therefore feel that I am merely being consistent in my qualified support for Theresa May. But she is still in No 10 defying, it seems, not just the odds, but gravity and the world.

Never the darling of correspondence columns, she is lambasted, derided, dismissed and generally found wanting. Now some Tory donors with more brass than sense are threatening to hold her to ransom – go or no more cash.

Yet there she is, still soaking it all up like blotting paper and keeping her head while all around her are losing theirs. How long can it go on?

That is the question this week. And still nobody knows the answer. Why?

First, her own party delights in wounding her but is afraid to strike her out of No 10 lest it opens the door to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It would take them decades to live that down with the electorate.

Second, everybody seems to think they could have got more out of the EU. Yet its vindictiveness has been mightily encouraged by the PM’s Tory critics as well as the rest of Westminster’s motley crew. All the deluded who think they could have done better are in urgent need of psychiatric care.

One doubt remains. The PM may seek to honour the referendum result by walking out of the EU in two months time, but does she really want to go? Is she still a Remainer masquerading as a Leaver?

This underlines the utter confusion of British politics.

The only slight hope is that the Brexiteers are sounding as if they might compromise. Against that, the Remainers remain determined to keep us shackled to Brussels, initially by postponing our exit.

Possibly, Mrs May feels – like David Davis – that in the end Brussels will run true to type and cobble together a last- minute settlement that could clear the Commons. But they need a little help along the way.

I believe that she must now turn nasty if she is to last.

She has displayed an amazingly earnest, constructive endeavour, fortitude and doggedness. But where’s the bite? Now she needs to go to Brussels tomorrow with fangs bared.

She should say: Britain will leave the EU on March 29; it will no longer tolerate the EU’s attempt to split off Northern Ireland; nor will it countenance any interference with trade after March 29; and any transition period will end after two years at the most. Otherwise, we shall not pay a penny into the EU’s coffers, let alone £39bn.

She might be tempted on her return home to add that she will never voluntarily leave No 10 until the Commons acquires a resolutely unbiased Speaker, who is another cross she has to bear.

That would not unite British politics, but it would mightily impress the populace and signal abject defeat for the Remainers. They would then know there is no chance of their succeeding to No 10. It must be a Brexiteer.

This brings me to the third reason for backing Mrs May: the Tory alternative.

The party can kiss good-bye to office if it chooses Amber Rudd, Chancellor Philip Hammond or David Liddington, effectively deputy PM. A period of silence would also be welcome from Gavin Williamson, Yorkshire’s very own soft-soaping Defence Secretary.

That leaves a crowded but not distinguished field of possibles not known for loyalty. David Davis is probably too old for a comeback. Trade Minister, Liam Fox, has generally been constructive but is unlikely leadership material.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, shows signs of going battily green and, in any case, dirtied his ticket by knifing Boris Johnson in the back over the succession to David Cameron.

That leaves six: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who did not do a lot for the NHS at the Health Department; Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, who is not inspiring; Dominic Raab, surely too intense; Andrea Leadsom, a robust Leader of the Commons who has more going for her than being female; Penny Mordaunt, if you can forgive the wasteful operation of our overseas aid, and the man himself, Boris Johnson whose foibles and eccentricities still generate more excitement than the rest put together.

Jacob Rees-Mogg should settle for the Chancellorship – and prove himself in government.

You now know why Mrs May is still standing.