Amid the frenetic activity surrounding Theresa May’s Brexit Deal, including a thus far slow attempt to trigger a no confidence vote, Cabinet resignations and the DUP all but breaking the confidence and supply agreement with the Tories, a small band of existing Cabinet Ministers have found a mutual love of pizza. And, of course, a shared desire to change the PM’s deal to leave the EU.
But with the PM trying to tough things out as best she can, backed up by a vanguard of vocal loyalists like Amber Rudd – plus messages from the EU they’re not negotiating the deal further – is the so-called Pizza Club running out of steam?
The Pizza Club (so-called because they meet over takeaway pizzas) is made up of Andrea Leadsom, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt and Liam Fox. Their shared aim is to get the PM to alter her draft Brexit agreement far more in accordance with their world view, especially in relation to the painful Irish ‘backstop’ dilemma and the UK’s relationship with the customs union. All are well-known Brexiteers and some of them surprised Westminster-watchers and the media for not resigning alongside Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and others last week. Mordaunt, in particular, was expected to walk. They believe they can make changes from the inside, not from the wilderness of the backbenches.
The key players in the Pizza Club are Leadsom and Gove, with the former rumoured to have begun these informal gatherings some time ago by hosting fast food fuelled plotting sessions in her office. In fact, all members of the Club have been supportive of May in public. Those awkward early morning door-stepping moments when Ministers are pestered by journos, as they hurriedly carry their red boxes to their cars, have sounded publicly reassuring for the PM.
Amber Rudd has wasted no time in slamming trouble-makers and declaring that May is here to stay. She’s issued a sharp rebuttal in her first interview since her return to the Cabinet to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg who should “go back into their corners”. If the Club is to wield real influence they will be keen not to be seen in the same light as Rees-Mogg and the hardliners.
Even as the Club may be trying to get their changes through, the mood music as the PM’s circle of bodyguards surround her shows a stiffening resolve and a noticeable closing of ranks. Rudd is chief among the bodyguards followed by other Cabinet Members such as David Lidington, Karen Bradley and James Brokenshire.
Despite this, the PM’s problems are by no means over and Number 10 still worries that members of the Pizza Club might resign if things get worse. This may be their strongest hand. Adding to May’s headache, the DUP punished the Government by not voting in support of the Tories on the Finance Bill last night. Given the DUP is not going to support the deal in Parliament, this adds to its death knell.
Whatever happens in the run-up to the vote on the deal, May still has to contend with discontented backbenchers (the no confidence threat is by no means dead), angry DUP MPs and a small band of Brexiteer fast-food lovers much closer to home in the Cabinet. If the Pizza Club is on manoeuvres, they’re being subtle about it, biding their time. Or, they’re running out of steam in the face of a temporarily calmer position for the PM.