Former defence secretary Michael Fallon made his first contribution to a Commons debate on Brexit since leaving government this afternoon — and its content augured incredibly badly for Theresa May.
Attacking the withdrawal agreement as a “huge gamble”, Fallon witheringly asked the Prime Minister whether it was really sensible for the UK to pay the EU £39bn and surrender its vote and veto in Brussels with no guarantee of securing the future trade terms it wants.
Though he resigned in some disgrace over accusations of sexual harassment last November, Fallon is one of the most senior Tories on the backbenches, so his words will carry some weight. They also matter as he is broadly representative of the sort of backbench Tory — outwardly loyal and never excessively unhelpful to the government for reasons of decorum and, though sceptical, not especially doctrinaire on the EU — and it was widely assumed he would vote for the deal.
I understand that Fallon’s criticisms of the deal are even stronger (he has made clear to friends that he has very strong reservations). Nor, despite his almost Remainy line of argument, is he going to join some other recent departures from May’s Cabinet in backing a new referendum. So not only does his intervention today underline the shallowness of support for the withdrawal agreement beyond the government payroll, but it also highlights the difficulty May will have in finding a plan B that will keep her party together.