With Theresa May’s victory in last month’s vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party came a year’s immunity from further challenge – and, as far as she was concerned, a mandate to deliver Brexit.
Increasingly, however, Tory MPs think neither will hold. Even though the one procedural route that could make it happen has been closed off, some in government believe that the prime minister will have to move – or be moved by ministerial resignations or parliamentary guerrilla tactics – if there is to be any meaningful shift on Brexit at Westminster.
One of the most potent arguments against a change of Conservative leader so late in the Brexit process, however, is that the time required to hold even an truncated contest including the party membership – as most agree is an imperative after May won by acclamation, and without having been scrutinised as a campaigner first – would take weeks that simply cannot be wasted with March 29 looming.
MPs are nonetheless kicking around a potential solution. One idea gaining traction is the election of a leader by MPs alone, before an affirmative ballot of the Tory membership a year later. The party’s voluntary wing would be allowed the say they have not had over their leader since 2005 – and in many cases desperately want after the disappointment of May’s reign; but not, MPs in hope, in such a way that wasted an extended stretch of the Article 50 period.
The 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady has already said that the parliamentary end of any leadership contest could take place “expeditiously” in the event of a vacancy, which would allow for speedy resolution. And although amending the rules of a leadership contest to defer the input of members for a year would require the agreement of the Conservative Party board – made up of parliamentarians and party volunteers – MPs are confident that they could impose their will upon it.