Theresa May certainly has a tough day ahead.
She faces Prime Minister’s Questions at noon, then a two-hour session with the Liaison Committee to cover Brexit, air quality, defence spending and the refurbishment of Parliament.
To boot, Boris Johnson is expected to pop up on the backbenches for the first time and deliver his ‘resignation speech’. Then, at around 5pm, she faces possibly the toughest grilling of all as she gives an end-of-term address to the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.
Only by 6pm will she really know how her day has gone. She may well need a stiff drink when she hosts a 7pm drinks reception with the Press Gallery in the Rose Garden at No.10.
Like a steeplechaser who spies the finishing line in the near distance, she will be hoping she can clear the last few hurdles bloodied but unbowed. One ill-advised plan to bring the finishing tape closer, by letting MPs take their summer break five days early, will be formally dumped today.
But the PM’s allies think she can survive Corbyn’s jibes in their final duel before recess, that when Johnson breaks his silence he will wound but not kill, and that the Liaison Committee can be bored into submission.
The real water jump will be the 1922 Committee, as both Brexiteers and Remainers attack her Chequers compromise plan as either too soft or too hard. Both groups have felt bitterly betrayed in the past week and trust is at an all-time low.
Yet the brute Parliamentary arithmetic, set in place by May’s disastrous snap election, has ended up imprisoning her and protecting her at the same time. As last night’s Labour votes showed, she now has a tight but unshakeable majority on all matters Brexit – a majority strong enough to survive the meaningful vote expected on her final deal with Brussels later this year.
MPs such as Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer, Frank Field and John Mann are unlikely to ever budge. In a neat twist on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s warning that May would depend on “socialist votes” to get her Chequers plan through, it’s the Labour Leavers who will in fact be the midwives to Brexit when it is finally born gasping and mewling on March 31, 2019.
As for the bigger ‘no confidence’ votes that could spark an election, her supporters are convinced that traditional party loyalties would kick in and May would squeak home with DUP backing. ‘Back me or sack me’ still has resonance when there simply is no workable alternative candidate or programme that can unite the Commons.
Still, Brexit is proving to be a marathon more than a steeplechase, with longer timelines than any expected. May will be relieved to stagger past the Exit Day mark next spring, but that’s precisely when both Brussels (happy it has a non-chaotic withdrawal agreement) and her backbenchers (happy the UK has finally left) may finally pounce and show their spikes.