Theresa May managed to survive. Boris Johnson delivered his usual bombast. But at Britain’s Conservative Party conference this week, both Tory giants came across as almost doomed figures: Neither looked like they had a real long-term future in ruling the United Kingdom.
Beyond the prime minister’s loyalists and the hardest of Brexiteers, talk of tomorrow was elsewhere. Among members of parliament at the conference in Birmingham opposed to breaking all ties with the European Union, there were hopes for a future leader, unburdened by baggage from the 2016 Brexit campaign, should May fall. Only four in 10 Tory voters support the prime minister in her wish to stay on to fight in the next general election, according to a recent Ipsos MORI survey.
In a crisis, one possible way forward for the business-minded MPs who backed “Remain” would be someone like Tom Tugendhat, 45, the chair of the foreign-affairs select committee of the House of Commons. Many MPs I spoke to were surprisingly open and enthusiastic about his “leadership potential.”
One reason for this: MPs who voted for the U.K. to remain in the EU see Brexit Britain as adrift in the world and are worried about its foreign policy. Tugendhat, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his supporters told me, has the stature as a multilingual former military-intelligence officer—fluent in French, Italian, and Arabic—and as a foreign-affairs expert to set it right. Europe is in the family for Tugendhat: the son of a retired high-court judge and his French wife, he is a dual British French citizen. His wife is a member of France’s supreme court for administration and his father-in-law is a former senior French diplomat.