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'I’m not a quitter': Defiant May's message to mutinous Tories

Theresa May has travelled to China amid disquiet in the Tory ranks. Credit: PA Wire

The Prime Minister has brought her husband Philip along with her on this four-day day trip to China.

Given the agitating about her leadership back home, she could no doubt do with the moral support.

Her mission is ostensibly to exploit the trading opportunities offered by the second largest economy in the world.

What she also needs to do rather urgently is to project some sort of authority on her restless party. Standing next to President Xi in the Great Hall of the People might do that. On the other hand, it might give the mice at home more time to play.

On the plane on the way out, peppered with questions on her future by the travelling media, May was bullish.

“I am not a quitter,” she declared.

“I’m a servant to my country and my party ... there’s a long-term job to be done and that job is about getting the best Brexit deal and ensuring that we take back control of our money, our laws, our borders so we can sign deals around the rest of the world.”

What happens though, if that party decides they no longer see her as the best servant?

MPs are openly suggesting that the government is lacking in vision and flailing around without a clear domestic agenda.

Mrs May did suggest she’d been listening - pointing to government announcements on housing and social care as evidence of domestic achievements, which frankly is not going to be enough to soothe those calling for her head.

“I am going to China to enhance the British economy and enhance global Britain.”

That’s how the prime minister wants this trip to be seen. But even the warmth of her reception in China is not guaranteed.

Mrs May has been notably more cautious in her approach to Beijing than David Cameron. She’s been slow to make this trade trip and her failure to endorse President Xi’s flagship investment programme, the Belt and Road Initiative, could throw up some road blocks.

“It has the potential to be a hugely significant investment and have significant opportunities for businesses outside of China,” May said, while making clear she still has concerns: “What I would like to see is ensuring that we have transparency and international standards are adhered to and I will be discussing that.”

The trouble is Britain needs China more than they need us. China is currently providing one third of global growth; we are one of the few economies in the world not booming. Trade deals with countries like China should be the glittering prize for leaving Europe. But we are coming at it neither from a position of strength nor with a strong prime minister.

When she meets President Xi on Thursday the prime minister might look at his unassailable grip on power with a certain amount of longing.