Soothing Brexiteers is the price to pay for party unity

Theresa May after Cabinet meeting Image copyright Getty Images

The Tory Brexiteers are pretty bruised. And soothing their contusions is now a necessary price for party unity.

Three weeks ago, when a Boris-Gove dream ticket seemed destined to take the reins of government, they looked like the new masters of the universe; then, one by one, their candidates to succeed David Cameron imploded - and now they see a prime minister who was on the Remain side in the referendum, and they wonder if their great Brexit triumph may now evaporate.

To be sure, Theresa May has insisted, several times that "Brexit means Brexit". But that soundbite attracts a brisk Brexiteer put down: "What does it mean, if anything?"

The manner of the Brexiteer rout feeds into this mood; they are very bitter at what they regard as the brutalising of their final standard bearer, Andrea Leadsom.

And they suspect the machinations - as they see them - of the Tory establishment will not stop there.

Some of this can be assuaged by a reshuffle that gives Brexiteers real influence in government, and it would have to go beyond putting a few prominent pro-Leave MPs into positions in the projected Ministry of Brexit. The pro-Brexit Tory right wants influence across the spectrum of government.

And there's an important subtlety here: there are fault-lines amongst the Brexiteers. It's a massive over-simplification, but there are "Economy/Trade Brexiteers" who emphasise the need to remove burdensome regulation and trade arrangements in which Britain's influence is diluted in umbrella agreements made by a 28-member EU; then there are "Immigration Brexiteers" whose priority is what it says on the tin.

Who'll be favoured?

This division was evident in internal debates in the Leave camp during the referendum, with Immigration Brexiteers convinced that their side only pulled ahead when the focus of their campaigning moved off the economy and onto immigration, with the Farage "Breaking Point" poster.

The coming Theresa May reshuffle will be closely scrutinised, to see if it favours the Economic Brexiteer tribe over the Immigration Brexiteers.

If it does that would be seen as foreshadowing a negotiation strategy that prioritised a trade deal with the EU over clamping down on freedom of movement.

That would be a recipe for trouble in a number of ways; it would revitalise UKIP and the threat they pose to the Tory flank, and it would give the core group which caused David Cameron so much trouble through the Coalition years licence to launch a new insurgency.

And always remember, Theresa May might have scored a crushing victory in the Tory leadership race, but she still has to nurse David Cameron's very fragile Commons majority.

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