Why the Tory Brexiteers' letter to May matters

Theresa May Image copyright Reuters

More than 60 Tory MPs from the Brexit-backing European Research Group have written to the prime minister with a list of demands for Brexit negotiations, ahead of a crunch cabinet meeting. What's going on?

Another letter, another list of signatures.

In these torrid times it is not exactly unusual that documents emerge pushing one version of Brexit doctrine or another, that Tory tensions are spelt out in black and white.

The reason however why the letter from the Conservative Brexiteer backbenches matters is simple. It's about timing.

As we've discussed many times before, Theresa May's base in her party are the Eurosceptics.

With no majority, she knows that she needs to keep the dozens and dozens of Brexit-backing Tory MPs broadly with her for her own government's survival.

They have accepted some shifts from the government that they used to find intolerable - a Brexit departure lounge of a couple of years rather than a sharp exit, and a bill of tens of billions.

But they are not, as this letter makes clear, up for swallowing many more compromises when it comes to getting trade deals done immediately after Brexit.

It's not the detail that matters so much as the fact that this letter has emerged now, just at the moment when Number 10 and cabinet Remainers were becoming increasingly hopeful that a compromise was in reach, with ministers meeting at Chequers on Thursday and the prime minister to set out a way through in a big speech next week.

Just when the PM and her team were readying themselves to sell an accommodation, a powerful faction has made it clear they are not up for budging very much.

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