What plan of attack for Brexiteers now after Rees-Mogg's failed 'Dad's Army' plot to topple the PM?
When the supreme court ruled that the Government would not have the right to decide on the UK’s future relationship with the EU without Parliament's consent, Brexiteers considered Gina Miller a pariah.
Having pushed the case for a “meaningful vote” all the way to the most powerful court in the land, the prominent remainer stood accused of trying to overturn the democratic will of 17.4 million people.
How ironic that the businesswoman pushing hardest for a second referendum should now be hailed by leavers as Brexit’s possible saviour.
For having so far failed to topple the Prime Minister with 48 letters of no confidence, the European Research Group (ERG) is now playing a different numbers game in hoping the adverse arithmetic around the vote on her draft withdrawal bill will finally leave Mrs May out for the count.
Likening Tory Brexiteers to “Dad’s Army” over the way they have struggled to push the envelope on a future leader, ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to give Mrs May a stay of execution during a press conference on Tuesday.
“Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace,” he said. “We will see what letters come in due time. Do 47 want to come with me or not? I may find that they don’t or they don’t do it today but when we get the meaningful vote. That’s a decision for them.”
Referencing the popular BBC sitcom, he added: “I’ve always admired Captain Mainwaring,” a nod to the fictional bank manager and Home Guard platoon commander portrayed by the late Arthur Lowe and described by Wikipedia as "a pompous, blustering figure with an overdeveloped sense of his importance".
While many Conservatives MPs may well view Mr Rees-Mogg in the same light as his fictional wartime hero, few would disagree with his assertion that privately, there aren’t many in the party who want to see Mrs May to lead them into the next election.
So why have only 25 Tories publicly submitted letters of no confidence to 1992 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, and what on earth happens next?
Mr Rees-Mogg’s sidekick Steve Baker was not wrong when he admitted to reporters that the sorry saga had "left me answering questions about my own credibility”.
But inside the party it isn’t Baker or indeed Rees-Mogg’s credibility that has been called into question - but their relative lack of experience.
As one senior Tory source told the Telegraph: “There is no doubt that Jacob is an exceptionally clever man with a unique ability to communicate and clear and concise message to the public, but that does not automatically make him an expert political operator. Neither Jacob nor Steve have operated at this level before, and there has been a degree of naivety about their approach.”
Privately Brexiteer MPs who had put in letters were fuming with the so-called “old guard” of Tory Eurosceptics such as David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson and Bernard Jenkin, who have so far declined to put pen to paper. There has even been a gender divide in the ERG with female members, who all bar one have submitted letters, blaming their male colleagues for “lacking backbone”.
But after Duncan Smith and former Northern Ireland Secretary Paterson led a delegation into Downing Street on Monday - others in the ERG are taking their lead from the Brexit big beasts, who are trying to persuade Mrs May to accept a draft protocol on how a soft border can work in Ireland outside of a customs union.
With the experience to know that “blue on blue” public infighting is anathema not only to those within the party, but also Tory voters - and conscious that many MPs don’t agree with the rookies’ “now or never” strategy - the veterans have been willing to show more patience.
As one immaculately placed source put it: “The likes of DD, IDS and Owen (Paterson) have been playing this game for decades while Rees-Mogg and Baker are playing in the PGA tour for the first time ever. Why did the coup fail? Not because Mrs May is any more popular now than she was last week but because there’s been a difference of opinion over strategy.
"The oldies know that they will be in a far more powerful position when it comes to the meaningful vote, when they have got Labour, the Scots nats, and the DUP with them. They don’t need her to lose by miles, they just need her to lose. That’s the main event here. The Brexiteers may not be united on the timing of bringing down Mrs May, but they are united in stopping her version of Brexit and the meaningful vote is the only way they can do that. If she loses the vote, Brexit is reborn.”
With Spain already threatening to veto the draft withdrawal agreement over Gibraltar, the old guard are also banking on a “Walloonian” reaction to the small print that undermines the 585-page document even further as Mrs May prepares to flesh out the detail in Brussels this week.
An insider said: “They’re waiting for the member states to start their own in-fighting. They hope they’ll be another moment like when Wallonia tried to block the EU’s deal with Canada.”
The “dump the plan not the person” approach echoes consensus outside the ERG which is that Tory MPs would rather attack “the policy than the person.”
One minister told the Telegraph: “The grandstanding of some members of the ERG has gone down very badly in the tearoom. It’s all been a bit unedifying. What colleagues are looking for is not a hastily arranged press conference but an acute event.”
Tory Brexiteers are once again preparing for war, and the meaningful vote appears to be the new muster point.