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This week saw one remark from Michel Barnier give Theresa May a glimpse that there might just be light at the end of the Brexit tunnel. But as MPs head off to the party conferences, the prime minister may reflect that her friends are now abroad and her enemies massed at home.

Chequers Plan

Theresa May will be breathing a small - very small - sigh of relief this week after support for her position appeared to increase in Brussels, only weeks after almost everyone had agreed the prime minister's Chequers compromise was itself fatally compromised.

Michel Barnier conceded that the plans could work and that a deal could be reached by early November. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab also tried to crank up the pressure on Barnier by touring the breakfast news studios on Thursday, beating his chest that if no deal is the outcome then Britain is not prepared to pay the infamous £39 billion divorce bill. This idea was swiftly shot down by a Brussels spokesperson - though notably not Barnier himself, who said that already settled agreements would not be revisited.

You would think Raab's threats would go some way to satisfying some of the ardent Brexiteers, but, as explained below, they are still out for blood. At least Team May are prepared to throw down the gauntlet with Brussels as negotiations inch ever closer to the October, now November, deadline.

May will feel emboldened this week to continue to face down her critics and stick with Chequers, reiterating she's the only one with a plan. But.


This good news should not come as a complete relief for the prime minister because it seems as though she cannot go a week without a new group of MPs attempting a coup. Members of the hard-line Brexit European Research Group (ERG) are no longer bothering to hide their plans to remove the PM. On Tuesday the group held an open meeting to discuss different ways and timelines of when to submit their letters to the 1922 committee. According to former Brexit minister Steve Baker, they had a ready list of 80 MPs.

In what can only be interpreted as a counterattack against the posturing of the ERG, the Tory Reform Group (TRG) has now set itself up as the 'rival' group. Many moderate conservative MPs, in a sign of defiance, held an event on Wednesday evening criticising the recent rhetoric, with Nicky Morgan calling for 'moderates' to "stand up against the louder voices." One can't help but think that the TRG's members might also be worrying what the arguments could be doing for their own re-election prospects.

Who's next?

While the ERG and TRG are sharpening their claws for a showdown at conference, it is worth thinking about what will happen after the dust settles. As Michael Gove said this week: "I think she is doing a great job at the moment", calling to mind a famous ministerial gaffe from 'The Thick of It'.

Repeatedly we see the same names creep up when a conservative leadership conversation takes place, but as Tom Tugendhat said modestly in an article for the Spectator, the old guard of politicians may need to make way for a new generation, meaning the like of Johnny Mercer, Kemi Badenoch, or perhaps even Tugendhat himself. The Conservative Party will need to take a long and hard look at itself if it isn't to go back into the wilderness it found itself in during the Blair years.

Sarah Jones, Managing Director, Public Affairs