Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - AGENDA -

Theresa May has sur­vived the week but her lead­er­ship re­mains un­der threat fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tions of Boris John­son and David Davis. As Euroscep­tic Tory MPs weigh up their next move, Steven Swin­ford as­sesses who is in pole po­si­tion.


Odds: 11/1

Boris John­son’s spec­tac­u­lar res­ig­na­tion has al­ready led to fevered spec­u­la­tion about a fu­ture lead­er­ship bid. He has been re­peat­edly writ­ten off by his crit­ics but re­mains hugely pop­u­lar with Euroscep­tic Tory MPs, hav­ing cham­pi­oned their cause re­lent­lessly in Cab­i­net — of­ten in the face of caus­tic op­pro­brium from his col­leagues.

The EU ref­er­en­dum po­larised pub­lic opin­ion about John­son, but his shock res­ig­na­tion will only in­crease his high pro­file and his hard line on Brexit could win him sig­nif­i­cant sup­port. The key ques­tion for John­son is whether he will be able to muster enough sup­port from fel­low Tory MPs to make it to the final two of the Tory lead­er­ship con­test. If he can make it through to the vote of Tory ac­tivists, few would bet against him.


Odds: 11/2

The Home Sec­re­tary has won plau­dits with both Re­main­ers and Brex­i­teers for re­peat­edly tak­ing on the Prime Min­is­ter — and win­ning. He joined forces with Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt to se­cure a sig­nif­i­cant climb­down from the Prime Min­is­ter on visas for highly-skilled mi­grants.

He also pub­licly ques­tioned the Prime Min­is­ter’s net mi­gra­tion target and was heav­ily crit­i­cal of the hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment pol­icy for il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the wake of the Win­drush scan­dal.

Tory Euroscep­tics once said they could never for­give him af­ter he de­cided at the last minute to back Re­main af­ter flirting with Brexit.

How­ever, since his ap­point­ment as Home Sec­re­tary they have been de­lighted with the way he has em­braced Brexit, in par­tic­u­lar his de­ci­sion to side with Boris John­son and David Davis in re­ject­ing Theresa May’s cus­toms part­ner­ship.


Odds: 6/1

The En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary has played his cards very care­fully in re­cent weeks.

While pri­vately he has raised sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about Theresa May’s Brexit pol­icy and even ripped up a page of her cus­toms part­ner­ship plan dur­ing one meet­ing, pub­licly he has been far more ret­i­cent.

His in­ter­view with An­drew Marr on the BBC last week­end was a case in point, back­ing the Prime Min­is­ter’s plan as a “proper” exit from the Euro­pean Union. While he said the Che­quers com­pro­mise was not what he had hoped for, he added that he was a “real­ist”. His com­ments are in stark con­trast to those of Boris John­son, who de­scribed the Brexit plan at Che­quers as a “turd”.

There re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant level of mis­trust be­tween the two men af­ter Gove stabbed John­son in the “back, front and side” dur­ing the last Tory lead­er­ship con­test, and many Euroscep­tics still view him with sus­pi­cion.

How­ever, he has been ac­tively courting fel­low MPs and speak­ing at in­nu­mer­able think-tank events. As En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary, his war on sin­gle-use plas­tic is one of the few gen­uinely pop­u­lar do­mes­tic poli­cies and May has put it at the heart of her agenda. Could his po­lit­i­cal re­nais­sance take him all the way to the very top?


Odds: 10/1

The for­mer health sec­re­tary has been given Boris’s old job by May, but could he be a dark horse in the race for the Con­ser­va­tive Party lead­er­ship?

Hunt has estab­lished him­self as a firm Euroscep­tic de­spite hav­ing backed Re­main dur­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum.

He re­cently crit­i­cised Air­bus af­ter it threat­ened to pull in­vest­ment from Bri­tain, de­scrib­ing its in­ter­ven­tion as “com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and urg­ing the coun­try to ig­nore “siren voices”. Heis­seen­bysomeasa com­pro­mise can­di­date, and is said to have taken to invit­ing col­leagues in groups of eight or 10 for meet­ings with sand­wiches in Portcullis House. As health sec­re­tary he won a sig­nif­i­cant bat­tle to se­cure £20bn a year in ex­tra fund­ing for the NHS, al­though he could face a back­lash from Tory col­leagues if it is funded by tax rises.


Odds: 40/1

The De­fence Sec­re­tary has been locked in an ex­tra­or­di­nary row with the Prime Min­is­ter over de­fence fund­ing, and has been ac­cused of telling of­fi­cials that he could bring her down. “I made her and I can break her”, he is al­leged to have said — al­though aides deny he used that form of words.

The for­mer Chief Whip is said to visit the tea­rooms ev­ery morn­ing, where he has been seen meet­ing Euroscep­tics MPs.

Like Jeremy Hunt, Wil­liamson has be­come a keen Brex­i­teer him­self, hav­ing joined Javid in ar­gu­ing against the cus­toms part­ner­ship.

How­ever, his el­e­va­tion to the role of De­fence Sec­re­tary has alien­ated some of his col­leagues, who also have con­cerns about his con­fronta­tional style.


Odds: 7/1

Among Tory Euroscep­tics, Rees-Mogg is a man who can do no wrong. As leader of the Euro­pean Re­search Group of Euroscep­tic Tory MPs, he has taken a dis­tinctly tougher ap­proach than his pre­de­ces­sor and been mer­ci­less in his crit­i­cism of Theresa May over Brexit.

He has to date stopped short of di­rectly calling for the Prime Min­is­ter’s head, al­though he has come re­mark­ably close. He re­cently com­pared May to Sir Robert Peel, the for­mer Tory Prime Min­is­ter forced to re­sign af­ter a mass re­volt by his party over the Corn Laws. Rees-Mogg has al­ways es­chewed any lead­er­ship am­bi­tions and in­sisted that his fo­cus is on keep­ing May to her prom­ises on Brexit. And as much as he is loved by Euroscep­tics, he was re­cently branded “in­so­lent” by one Tory min­is­ter. At the very least Rees-Mogg is likely to be a king-maker, but there are some who be­lieve he could end up go­ing all the way.

Odds valid at time of go­ing to press

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