Prime minister Theresa May has yet again come under fire this week, by critics from within her own party, as well as from either side of the Brexit camp. Leavers are stating that she is watering down Brexit and the pro-EU Remainers are accusing the prime minister of risking Britain’s economy. 

Calls for May’s resignation by her critics dominated a briefing with journalists on board a Royal Air Force jet en-route to a three-day trade visit to China. During the briefing, the prime minister justified her position as prime minister to her critics, by saying that she was “not a quitter.” She affirmed that the next general election would not be until 2022, and said more could be done to communicate better with MPs and the public. “There’s always more for us to be able to do to talk to people about what we’re achieving,” May told reporters on board her RAF Voyager plane to Wuhan, central China. This is her first stop for her first bilateral visit to the country. “Yes, we need to ensure that we do speak about the achievements that we’ve seen.”

Theresa May’s future as prime minister and leader of the Tory party has been under deep scrutiny for some time now, since the party was subjected to a snap election last year that backfired, as the party lost its majority in the process. It was during her visit to Japan last year that the PM first used the “I’m not a quitter” phrase, promising to put up a fight in the next general election in 2022. 

On this most recent occasion, the prime minister asserted that her government had been bold in making progress, naming the rise of first-time buyers, GDP growth for five years and the narrowing gap between rich and poor students. “This is as a result of decisions the Conservatives have taken in government and we will continue to do that alongside delivering the best Brexit deal for Britain,” she said.

When answering a question on the prospect of a possible leadership contest, May labelled it as a “hypothetical situation” which she would not entertain. “We are in government. The next general election is not until 2022,” she said. “What we’re doing now is doing the job that the British people asked the government to do which is to deliver on Brexit.” 

The prime minister did go on to say that she respected Conservative party leadership rules, where backbench MPs can write private letters to the chair of the 1922 committee to express a no confidence in her leadership of the party. If the amount of letter reaches the amount of 48, or 15%, then an automatic leadership challenge is triggered. However, until the amount is reached, May will be unaware of the private letters. “It’s a matter for the Conservative party, it’s always been written by the [backbench] 1922 [Committee]” she said. “They went through a long process in terms of writing those leadership rules.”

In the last couple of weeks, moderate Conservative ministers and backbenchers including Nick Boles and the chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, have broken their silence by calling for bolder leadership. Last week, Halfon said that the current state of policy making had more similarity to a tortoise than a lion. In response to this, the PM said that she wouldn’t compare herself to either animal in her approach. “I have never tried to compare myself to any animal, or bird or car or whatever sort of comparisons that sometimes people use,” she said. “I am doing what I believe to be important for the sake of the country which is actually being out here and doing this work in terms of the trade deal and at the same time obviously as we’re doing all the other things necessary for the future of the country.”

The prospect of a vote of no confidence could well be a possibility, if you bear in mind that the next election is not until 2022. This possibility is bolstered by the prime minister and some in her cabinet playing down the leaked economic impact assessments, which were reported earlier this week. The document showed three post-Brexit scenarios, with all of them showing a financial slowdown once the UK has left the EU. 

“It would be wrong to describe this as ‘the Brexit impact assessment,’” she said. “There is analysis being done. This is very preliminary. What is been seen so far is a selective interpretation of a very preliminary analysis, which ministers have not signed off, have not approved, and which doesn’t actually even look at the sort of deal that we want to deliver in terms of the future of the European Union,” she continued. 

The prime minister also refused to immediately publish the leaked analysis, saying that it would be wrong to do so “before it was completed.” 

"When the time comes for Parliament to vote on the final deal, we will ensure that Parliament has the appropriate analysis on which to be fully informed, on which to base their judgement," she said. 

The purpose for Theresa May’s three-day visit to China will be to lay the groundwork for a future trade agreement and to bolster the existing trading relationship in the meantime. “China is a country that we want to do a trade deal with,” she said. “But I think that there is more we can be doing in the interim... doing right now in terms of looking at potential barriers to trade and the opening up of markets to ensure, obviously, British businesses are able to do good trade into China.”

However, before departing for her first stop, Wuhan, she cautioned that the UK and China will “not always see eye-to-eye,” whilst hinting some sympathies with US president Donald Trump’s approach to China, as Washington have suggested that it cannot longer tolerate China’s unfair trade practices, including intellectual property infringements. Donald Trump echoed these concerns during his State of the Union address, yesterday.  

Theresa May will be meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping on Thursday for dinner, where international security, North Korea, as well as the growing concern over the eroding democratic situation in Hong Kong and the human rights clampdown in mainland China will be discussed.