The Prime Minister has defended her leadership after questions from a raft of her own MPs, declaring “I am not a quitter and there’s a long term job to be done” to reporters on the flight taking her on a trade mission in China.
Facing several questions about her leadership at the start of a three day trip to meet President Xi, the PM acknowledged “yes, we need to ensure that we do speak about the achievements that we’ve seen,” pointing to changes to stamp duty, historically low levels of unemployment and falls in public borrowing.
Pressed on why some of her MPs appeared to be undermining her, she told reporters: “I am doing what I believe is important for the sake of the country”.
But responding to a question from Sky News about whether her dissenting MPs risked a Corbyn Government, the PM said: “We are in Government. The next General Election is not until 2022. What we’re doing now is doing the job that the British people asked the Government to do which is to deliver on Brexit.
“They want us to do that. But In doing that they did not vote for nothing to change when we come out of the EU, but we also want to deliver for them on things that matter on a day to day basis”.
The PM’s vow that things will change as a result of Brexit was a subtle reflection on the claim from her Chancellor in Davos last week that the UK-EU trading relationship would see only “very modest” change.
It will be seen as an olive branch to those Brexiter MPs currently asserting themselves in Parliament demanding that the PM does not row back from the red lines she herself set at the Lancaster House speech a year ago.
In another clear message to her concerned backbenchers, the PM played down the leaked impact assessments showing a hit to the economy in all broad end state scenarios with the EU from extra impediments to trade with our main partner.
She said: “It would be wrong to describe this as ‘the Brexit impact assessment’.
“There is analysis being done. This is very preliminary. What has been seen so far is a selective interpretation of a very preliminary analysis, which ministers have not signed off, have not approved, and which doesn’t actually even look at the sort of deal that we want to deliver in terms of the future relationship with the European Union.”
She also refused to immediately publish the leaked analysis saying it would be wrong to publish it “before it was completed”. Ms May said: “When the time comes for Parliament to vote on the final deal, we will ensure that Parliament has the appropriate analysis on which to be fully informed, on which to base their judgement”.
The PM was also asked about whether she would contest a no confidence vote if one, as some MPs suggest, is very close, and if 48 letters to the 1922 Committee chair were received..
She said: “You always like talking about hypothetical situations. Let’s talk about where we are now and what we are doing now.
“Here I am, taking a trade delegation to China. Here I am going to China to enhance the British economy and enhance global Britain”.
Asked further if she felt people putting in letters were “cowards” and the system “unfair” on a sitting PM, she replied: “Look, the Conservative party leadership rules have been written and it’s a matter for the Conservative party, it’s always been written by the [backbench] 1922 [Committee]. They went through a long process in terms of writing those leadership rules.”
The Prime Minister began her trip in the university city of Wuhan, announcing a raft of new educational exchanges, praising the “significant contribution” of 150,000 Chinese students in the UK.
She continues on to Beijing later today for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People with Premier Li Keqiang.