In the midst of the confusion over whether the UK and Ireland have agreed for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union, Tory MPs have been invited to a party meeting this afternoon at 4. Some backbenchers who are particularly interested in scrutinising Brexit had requested that they be given the same sort of off-the-record briefings on policy and developments as are offered on a regular basis by the Ministry of Defence, so this may well be one of those meetings. But the presence of Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s chief of staff, suggests that it’s not just an off-the-record update from Brexit minister Steve Baker.
The chances are that this meeting will be an attempt by Number 10 to urge MPs to hold their fire for a bit longer, after things started to look a little less stable over the weekend. There is concern about the letter signed by more than 30 MPs and organised by the Leave Means Leave group, which set out a number of red lines for the Prime Minister in her negotiations with the EU. In particular, those Brexiteers are worried about the prospect of the European Court of Justice having any jurisdiction over the UK during the transition period. What is clear is that some Brexiteers now feel the time has come to start pushing the Prime Minister again.
It’s not just Brexit, though: Alan Milburn’s resignation at the weekend has underlined what a number of Tory MPs are beginning to despair about, which is a lack of domestic direction from the government. Theresa May had regained confidence on this front in the past few weeks, with a good Budget and announcements on industrial strategy and other domestic reforms. But if she is to maintain that confidence – and some peace in her party – then this afternoon’s party meeting needs to cover a fair bit of ground.
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