Theresa May heads to Tory conference hoping to stamp out rebellion

Helen Cahill
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May arrives at the Midland hotel in Manchester (Source: Getty)

Tory conference kicks off this week and it is set to be a dramatic affair as Theresa May attempts to unite her squabbling Cabinet.

She will be looking to lead on domestic policy by making a direct offer to Labour's base, announcing this weekend that the Conservatives will freeze increases in university fees.

Read more: Boris Johnson is now the favourite to succeed Theresa May

PM under pressure

The front page of the Sunday Times this morning won't help May as she seeks to show her strength. It paints a fairly unflattering picture of the Prime Minister as she tried to regroup after losing the Tory majority, alleging that at one point there was even a suggestion an SAS officer could be brought in to give her a bracing pep talk.

Unsurprisingly, May attempts to put forward a more flattering image of herself in the Telegraph, doubling down on her pledge to lead the party into the next general election, saying she is not a "quitter".

But Boris Johnson, her foreign secretary, clearly isn't a quitter either, making his second bid for the leadership. In the Sun this weekend, he set out his Brexit "red lines" in a clear attempt to woo over the Tory membership, an intervention which follows his 4,000-word Brexit essay published in the Telegraph last month.

And his campaign appears to be working; he is now the favourite to succeed May, according to a YouGov poll of Conservative members. Johnson will have another chance to further his ambitions when he gives a speech to delegates on Tueday afternoon and when he attends a fringe event with UK Finance hours later.

Brexit battle ground

In stark contrast to the Labour conference, expect Brexit to be at the top of the agenda for the Tories this week. The Prime Minister may have confirmed the UK will seek a transitional period after Brexit, but her cabinet is still arguing about how long it will last. Johnson wants it to last two years, but chancellor Philip Hammond, who has been sounding out the business community, is looking for a more substantial grace period.

Detailed proposals on the arrangement the UK will be transitioning towards have yet to emerge. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer refused to set out a detailed plan at Labour conference, but the City has made a start, outlining its blueprint for Brexit last week. Look for signs of movement from the Tories when international trade secretary Liam Fox speaks at a fringe event today, and when both Fox and Brexit secretary David Davis address the conference on Tuesday.

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