Tory MPs are ‘counting down the hours’ until Theresa May quits after Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom left her Cabinet job in anger over the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan.
Yesterday the PM faced calls from her own party to scrap her new Brexit proposal as it faced near-certain humiliating defeat with dire consequences.
She is understood to have ‘barricaded’ herself in at Number 10 as a growing number of Tories join the race for her job. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday: ‘The sofa is up against the door, she’s not leaving.’ Andrea Leadsom resigned with a ‘heavy heart’, saying she no longer believes the Government’s approach will deliver on the referendum result to leave the European Union.
The PM, writing in reply, disagreed with the ex-minister’s assessment, but said she was sorry to lose someone of Leadsom’s ‘passion, drive and sincerity’. ‘I do not agree with you that the deal which we have negotiated with the European Union means that the United Kingdom will not become a sovereign country,’ May said.
Leadsom acknowledged her resignation came on the eve of the European elections, but said she felt she could not announce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in Thursday’s Business Statement containing ‘new elements that I fundamentally oppose’.
‘I fully respect the integrity, resolution and determination that you have shown during your time as Prime Minister,’ she wrote in a letter to the PM. ‘No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have, but I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this Government and our party.’
Leadsom was one of a number of Brexit-supporting colleagues in the so-called ‘Pizza Club’ who were absent for the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Other ministers are said to be ready to go too, with Conservatives ‘queuing up’ for May’s position in Downing Street. Boris Johnson leads the field for a leadership race with May predicted to go by the end of the week.
Downing Street sources said it was possible that the PM could meet Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday, her preferred choice to be her successor. But David Lidington, a former Europe Minister who is the PM’s de-facto deputy, could find himself the caretaker boss as the political crisis grips the country.
After the dramatic night in Westminster, the Prime Minister announced she will meet Sir Graham Brady, the representative of Tory backbench MPs, on Friday for a meeting which could seal her fate.
She has previously agreed to set out the timetable for the contest to replace her after a crunch vote on her Brexit deal, widely expected on June 7.
That deadline appears to have been brought forward with the announcement she will meet Sir Graham, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, the day after polling day for the European elections, which are expected to be disastrous for the Conservatives.
Sir Graham told reporters: ‘I will be meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday following her campaigning in the European elections tomorrow and following that meeting I will be consulting with the 1922 executive.’
He said the executive discussed ‘all sorts of things’ in the meeting. The 1922 Committee’s executive had been expected to consider a rule change to allow another attempt to force May out.
Following the failed bid to oust her in 2018, under the existing rules Mrs May would be safe from another confidence motion until December.
In a sign of unrest at the highest levels of the Tory Party, a series of Cabinet ministers asked for meetings with May to raise their concerns about the WAB which would put the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan into law.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has asked for a meeting to discuss his concerns about the prospect of a second referendum, after May revealed she would grant MPs a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the public.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell also has particular concerns because he fears the prospect of another referendum could be ‘exploited’ by the SNP to call for a fresh independence vote.