Allies of Brexit secretary David Davis think Theresa May could be gone as leader by Christmas as her struggles with European Union negotiations continue, it has been reported.
Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell is said to be organising drinks evenings with a new generation of Tory MPs and plotting to replace the prime minister with David Davis.
Said to be in the frame for top jobs are Tom Tugendhat, James Cleverly and Gillian Keegan who would support Davis to take over the leadership. Davis would then stand aside ahead of the next election in 2022 for one of the high flyers to take over.
One ally of Davis told one of the younger Tory MPs: “Theresa has the smell of death around her. She’ll be gone by Christmas. It’s time to rally around DD, (David Davis)” the Sun reported.
The prime minister faces resistance from within her party with some Tory MPs who back Leave saying they have lost confidence in her over Brexit in the wake of a proposal to align Northern Ireland with some EU trade rules to prevent a hard Irish border.
Bernard Jenkin MP told May in the Commons that other countries would be reluctant to do business with the UK “if we remain shackled to EU regulation after we’ve left the EU”.
Concern over May’s position as prime minister is shared in Brussels with the Telegraph reporting how European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker fears that her government could collapse next week if there is no progress on Brexit.
But Juncker wants May to stay as PM so as not to disrupt ongoing Brexit talks and there are fears in Brussels at a more hardline Brexiteer like Boris Johnson taking over.
One EU official told the Telegraph: “Mr Juncker wants to support Mrs May to avoid the collapse of her government. He is prepared to meet her at any time, including on days next week in the run up to the European summit.”
The Brexit deadline has been extended until Sunday (10 December) and if there is no agreement, trade talks would not be able to be started until March, by which time she may have faced a leadership challenge.
One formerly loyal Conservative MP said: “I would give her a matter of weeks if it carries on like this.”
Meanwhile, the chancellor Philip Hammond angered Eurosceptics when he said Britain should honour its Brexit bill regardless of the progress of negotiations.
He told a select committee: “I find it inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation. That is not a credible scenario. That is not the kind of country we are. Frankly, it would not make us a credible partner for future international agreements.”