Rees-Mogg urges Tories to strike against Theresa May

The Conservatives will be stuck with Theresa May as leader for the next general election unless they move to get rid of her now, Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned.

Amid signs the attempt by Brexiteers to force a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister has stalled, Mr Rees-Mogg acknowledged they were struggling to get the support they needed.

However, the leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) insisted there was little enthusiasm among Tory MPs for Mrs May to take them into the next election, due in 2022.

"I think it is now or the Prime Minister will lead the Conservatives into the next election," he told reporters at a Westminster news conference.

"You find MPs privately who will say to you they think that is a really good idea in any number and I would be quite surprised."

Brexit graphic
Brexit graphic

His warning came as Downing Street confirmed Mrs May will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for talks in Brussels on Wednesday ahead of a special EU Brexit summit on Sunday.

Last week senior ERG figures were confidently predicting they would get the 48 letters of no confidence from MPs needed to trigger a vote in Mrs May's leadership.

But with Brexiteers apparently divided over whether it was the right time to mount a challenge, the prospect of them achieving their target appeared to be dwindling.

However, Mr Rees-Mogg warned that they needed to consider whether they really wanted to carry on with her at the helm.

While party rules would permit a fresh challenge in a year's time if there was a failed attempt now, he said that in practice it was doubtful that would happen.

"Basically, if there is a vote of confidence it is not just for a year," he said.

"Getting the 48 letters has shown to be quite difficult, so the idea that in a year you just repeat the process and then she would go at that point, I don't think that is realistic."

Asked if his attempt to unseat the Prime Minister had been exposed as a "Dad's Army" operation, Mr Rees-Mogg replied: "I've always admired Captain Mainwaring."

Brexit graphic
Brexit graphic

Senior ministers sought to rally round Mrs May, with Justice Secretary David Gauke warning that any move to oust her would be "dangerous for the country".

He told BBC Breakfast: "The idea that at this point, in the middle of a very delicate negotiation, that is hugely important to the future of this country, that we should remove the Prime Minister, essentially leave us leaderless, for certainly several weeks, possibly months, would be hugely irresponsible.

"I don't think people should be talking about removing her at this point. I think that would be self-indulgent and dangerous for the country."