Theresa May will move to bolster her precarious position in Downing Street with an unprecedented invitation to Labour to help her create policies for a post-Brexit Britain as she attempts to quell a Tory plot to replace her.
Speaking on the anniversary of her first week in Downing Street and amid talk of a Conservative bid to oust her before the end of the year, the prime minister will seek to draw a line under a disastrous election result that saw her government lose its majority.
May will argue that her “commitment to change Britain is undimmed” and echo her speech from outside No 10 a year ago, pledging to tackle injustice and inequality as she launches a report on unfair employment practices by former Labour adviser Matthew Taylor.
The speech on Tuesday, which will be seen as an attempt to relaunch her faltering premiership, will then make an unusual plea for cross-party working, challenging MPs across the spectrum to “come forward with your own views and ideas about how we can tackle these challenges as a country”.
“At this critical time in our history, we can either be timid or we can be bold,” she will say. “We can play it safe or we can strike out with renewed courage and vigour, making the case for our ideas and values and challenging our opponents to contribute, not just criticise … In everything we do, we will act with an unshakable sense of purpose to build the better, fairer Britain which we all want to see.”
Despite having taken her party backwards at the election, May will insist her vision for the country is correct, saying she is “convinced that the path that I set out in that first speech outside No 10 and upon which we have set ourselves as a government remains the right one”.
Such claims are likely to be viewed with scepticism by other party leaders, given May’s track record over the past year proposing an expansion of grammar schools, an end to free school meals, and means-testing the winter fuel allowance – which were dropped after the election.
She has also failed to proceed with legislation to implement radical ideas that could have been well-received by the opposition, including a plan to put workers on company boards and a cap on energy prices.
Downing Street sources said her conciliatory tone reflected pragmatism about the new parliamentary arithmetic, which gives May a slender majority only with the support of the DUP.
Undoubtedly, the prime minister will need the support of the Labour frontbench to implement Brexit, including the passage of the repeal bill – due to be published on Thursday – that sets out how EU law will be transposed into British law. But government sources said she was also open to hearing the ideas of MPs from other parties about other difficult domestic areas of policy, such as the future of the NHS and social care.
May could also need help from the opposition implementing recommendations of the Taylor review, which is expected to recommend that workers in the gig economy should be given new protections linked to the minimum wage without losing the right to set their own hours. It would mean those classed as independent contractors such as Uber and Deliveroo drivers could be rebranded “dependent contractors” and have similar rights to be paid the minimum wage for the hours they work.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour campaign coordinator and shadow cabinet minister, said: “Theresa May has finally come clean and accepted the government has completely run out of ideas. As a result they’re having to beg for policy proposals from Labour.
“This is further evidence that this government can no longer run the country.”
May will pitch her approach to other parties as a sign of realism, but the move risks infuriating some of her own Conservative colleagues who resent having to rely on other parties to pass Commons legislation.
Her relaunch also appears in part to be an attempt to see off talk of an imminent leadership challenge, following a weekend of speculation about a plot to get rid of her by allies of David Davis, the Brexit secretary. Andrew Mitchell, a former chief whip and a friend of Davis, is reported to have told a dinner of Conservative MPs that the prime minister needed to be replaced.
One MP who was at the dinner on 26 June said: “Mr Mitchell effectively said [May] was dead in the water. He said she was weak, had lost her authority, couldn’t go on and we needed a new leader. Some of us were very surprised and disagreed with him.”
After the account emerged in the Mail on Sunday, Mitchell, a former development secretary, downplayed the remarks but did not explicitly deny having said them. “This is an overheated report of a private dinner conversation,” he said.
There were separate reports that allies of Davis were contemplating circulating a letter calling on May to name a date for her departure, but that Mitchell told them to “go and lie down in a darkened room and then take a holiday”.
A quick contest would benefit Davis and could be his last chance for a shot at being prime minister, after he lost to David Cameron in the 2005 contest. Many MPs from the newer generation of Tories would need a few more years to be known by the public and prove themselves as cabinet ministers.
In a second warning about May’s waning authority, Grant Shapps, a former Conservative party chairman, said the prime minister would need to change her leadership style if she wanted to survive another year at the top.
Writing in the Sun on Sunday, Shapps criticised the dysfunctional, arrogant and corrosive attitude of May’s team in No 10 before the election. “During year two, Theresa May will need to operate a completely different model to remain in power,” he said.
“She must throw open Downing Street to welcome innovative ideas, listen to business and make better use of the party’s broad talent in parliament and further afield. Trusting others and sharing power beyond a tiny praetorian guard may not be her instinctive approach, but doing so now could still help her go beyond just about managing the year ahead.”
However, the majority of Conservative MPs appear to be extremely wary about replacing May imminently over fears it could prompt another general election that polls suggest Jeremy Corbyn would win for Labour.
One MP from the 2015 intake said he was “not at all sure that there is any more than a small handful who would want a change of leadership and most colleagues would punish anyone who started messing about now”.
David Lidington, the justice secretary, told the BBC that leadership speculation was typical of Westminster summer parties, as “almost every July too much sun and too much warm prosecco leads to gossipy stories in the media”.
He insisted that “the public has had an election and I think they want politicians to go away and deal with the real problems”.
Rumblings of discontent about May’s leadership come in a crucial week for her premiership as the government publishes its EU repeal bill on Thursday. The bill aims to transpose all EU law into British law to replace the European Communities Act, ready for the moment of the UK’s exit.
Both the Conservative and Labour frontbenches support the principle of leaving the EU, but May will still face a battle to pass the bill unamended in the autumn.
MPs from all parties fighting against a hard Brexit are planning a series of attempts to change the legislation, with Labour certain to push for more safeguards for the environment and employment rights.
Some senior Conservatives also sense an opportunity to change the prime minister’s course on cutting ties with the European court of justice. Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, has said this position is too absolutist. Ed Vaizey, a former culture minister, argued this weekend that the UK must stay in the Euratom, the body governing cross-EU nuclear cooperation, which is underpinned by the ECJ.
The mood has alarmed some of the most dedicated Brexiters, who are concerned there is a concerted effort under way to stymie the Brexit process.
David Jones, a former deputy minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “fanatically pro-EU MPs, both Labour and misguided Tory ones, too, have hatched a cunning plot” to water-down Brexit by keeping the UK in the single market and customs union.
He said: “Parliament exists to reflect and enact the will of the people – not to subvert it. But amid the heat of high summer, it looks very much as if a plot is under way at Westminster.
“A plot to stymie the clear, unequivocal wish of the British people to leave the EU, as expressed in last year’s referendum. And it is, I very much regret to say, a plot that may yet succeed if MPs who truly respect that referendum result allow this conspiracy to proceed.”
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