On Friday morning, as Tory MPs discussed the humiliation that had befallen their prime minister hours earlier, the party’s febrile mood tipped over into outright panic. Rumours swirled that a cabinet minister was about to walk out. Others talked about seizing the moment to force Theresa May into a decisive break from the EU and a hard Brexit.
The news that the prime minister’s team was planning a hastily arranged statement in Downing Street was the final straw for some, who had palpitations about the prospect of another election. “The thought of another Theresa May manifesto is enough to make anyone reach for the bottle,” said a former minister.