THERESA May began the Conservative Party conference yesterday besieged on all sides over Brexit – by her own party, by a resurgent Labour and by the EU.
She faces a torrid three days in Birmingham, not least because of the excoriating criticism of her Chequers plan for Brexit by the former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and growing discontent amongst Tory grassroots over her approach to leaving the EU. Mrs May’s hesitant performance when interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Marr has not helped matters.
She failed to stamp her authority on the Conservatives and her stubborn insistence that hers is the only realistic approach to Brexit is only likely to embolden her critics within the party.
Yet all these political manoeuvres have far wider implications than the internal wranglings of the Conservatives. This is about the future of the country outside the EU, the fate of the economy, the prosperity of business, and the jobs of millions of people.
Voters in our region would be entirely justified in asking what the Government is doing for them. Mr Johnson’s proposal to abandon HS2 and use the money instead to improve trans-Pennine rail links will strike a chord with many appalled at recent chaos on the railways. And there are many other pressing domestic issues that matter greatly to Yorkshire needing to be addressed – not least the controversy over fracking, which campaigners warned yesterday could cost the Government the next election.
If Mrs May is to command the confidence of the country, she needs to demonstrate an understanding that such issues demand to be tackled. Otherwise, voters may conclude that they cannot put their faith in her.
It is unlikely she can unite the divided Tory factions over the coming days, and it is perfectly possible that after her keynote speech on Wednesday, the moves against her by Mr Jonson and his allies will gather even more momentum.
The one indisputably correct thing Mrs May said yesterday was that the Conservatives must unite in order to get the best deal for Britain. This must be the party’s priority, and should be at the forefront of minds over the next three days.
The infighting weaken Mrs May’s negotiating position with the EU at a time when relations are already difficult, and it has to stop.
Conservatives should also reflect on the political dangers, for they risk losing office to Labour whenever the next election coeomes.whenever the next election comes.