Brexit: When will Theresa May actually go?

Theresa May Image copyright Reuters

"She's leading us to oblivion - I don't understand why she is hanging on," says one former cabinet minister. "She's using up the oxygen her successor will need to breathe," says another.

These are not wild claims from easily over excitable Eurosceptics who have been the main cheerleaders to hurry Theresa May from her job. They are genuine frustrations from MPs who have worked alongside Theresa May who until recently have believed she should stay.

Again today, Number 10 bought the prime minister more time with the promise that she will meet the 1922 Committee next week.

And again, the Tory backbenchers did not agree that the situation is so bad for the party and this prime minister that she must go.

There are also many Tory MPs who believe sending the removal vans to Number 10 would be completely counterproductive, and present once more to the country a picture of a party that loves nothing more than fighting with itself.

But don't let that fool you into thinking that the chances of Theresa May having to leave her job sometime soon are not very high. It's hard to bump into a Conservative around Westminster right now whose conversation doesn't quickly move to when, not if she will have to go.

The timetable of when that might happen is being worked through, her rivals counting when and how their time might come.

Number 10, though, wants to take another shot at getting its Brexit deal through Parliament, somehow.

The talks with Labour go on, with no sign of resolution, but no sign of collapse.

Somehow, senior figures in government believe the significant gaps between the two sides still could, if you squint, be bridged, allowing the Brexit legislation to come back to Parliament and pass, perhaps even next week.

Nothing is impossible. But it's diplomatic to say this is an unpopular view. The other way a senior Tory MP describes it is "la la land".

Many in the Tory party point to the next occasion when their electoral problems will be painfully clear to them, in the European elections in a couple of weeks. A bloodbath then is likely to ratchet up the pressure still further.

MPs talk now about whether to "allow" the prime minister to continue free from challenge during the state visit from President Trump, to spare her the embarrassment of standing alongside the most powerful politician in the Western World while her own party are trying to unseat her.

But days after that comes the Peterborough by-election when Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party might squeeze the Tory vote right to the margins, with the humiliation of another potentially terrible showing there, prompting the party, finally, to act.

Days after that, Tory activists are due to gather, who could call on her to go. They don't have a way of officially making that happen, but for how long can all these voices be ignored?

Few believe that Theresa May, would, even after three more humiliations like that, willingly leave.

Image copyright Reuters

One senior MP joked she is like one of the climate change protesters who recently superglued themselves to the Commons. There is a swell of feeling in the aftermath, even though she has refused again to set a firmer date for her departure, that somehow, the final days of her leadership might soon be upon us, with a new leader installed before the summer.

Of course, it's healthy these days to maintain a scepticism for any predictions around Westminster. So far of course none of the politicians who would like to take a shot at the top job are eager to be the one who orchestrates a departure.

The prime minister's remaining supporters are right to say that many of the problems don't disappear along with her. Nor is there much sign that the cabinet is ready to call time.

But can even Theresa May with her publicly unbending determination really just keep going, when the support from her party that should sustain her is day by day being chipped away?

It's an easy thing in politics to exclaim: "We can't go on like this." The prime minister has proved that she can for many months, but it may prove impossible before too long.