May told to set date for departure ‘or MPs will do it for you’

Theresa May must set a date for her departure or her MPs will do it for her, a former Conservative Party leader has said in the wake of "devastating" local election results.

Iain Duncan Smith described the polls as a "judgment on leadership" as he urged the "caretaker" Prime Minister to say when she will stand down.

The Conservatives had dropped nearly 1,300 seats and lost control of 45 councils after the final results came in – the worst performance, in raw numbers, by a governing party in local elections since 1995.

Mr Duncan Smith said the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs should urgently meet again to decide on Mrs May's fate.

"We have to make a change... The message was loud and clear that, since March 29, people have decided they are absolutely furious with the political class," he told LBC.

"The committee has to sit again now, urgently, and decide that either the Prime Minister sets the immediate date for departure or, I'm afraid, they must do it for her."

The threat of an imminent challenge to Mrs May's position as Conservative leader was lifted last month when the 1922 Committee's executive rejected calls to change party rules which protect her from a no-confidence vote until December.

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(PA Graphics/PA)

Earlier, Justice Secretary David Gauke said the outcome would have been different had the Government succeeded in getting its Brexit deal through the Commons.

He said the results were "very disappointing", telling BBC Breakfast: "What we need to be doing is addressing the big issue in front of us, which is Brexit.

"We would have had a much better set of election results had we managed to get the Prime Minister's meaningful vote through earlier this year and we left the European Union on March 29.

"I think we can look at those local election results as a punishment for both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party for failing to find a way through that situation."

Local elections
Iain Duncan Smith described Mrs May as a 'caretaker' Prime Minister (Nigel Roddis/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the message from voters in local elections was: "Get on, deliver Brexit and then move on."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The electorate... right across the country want us to get on with Brexit and move on to all the other things they care about. I share that frustration."

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt pointed the finger at "purist" Brexiteers in his party who he said were partially to blame for the Tories' drubbing.

Asked who was responsible for the losses, he told reporters in Africa: "You can look at lots of different groups of people – you can look at Brexit purists in my party who have consistently refused to compromise and put Brexit in peril.

"You can for sure look at Government – I'm sure that there are things we could have done differently in the course of the negotiations. And you can look at the Labour Party who have played politics consistently."

But it was a good night for the Liberal Democrats, whose leader Sir Vince Cable hailed the "best results we've had in the 40 years of our existence".

Reflecting on several years of election losses, Mr Cable said the Lib Dems' opposition to Brexit will help them in the upcoming European elections.

"We are clearly a major force, we are clearly the leading Remain party and we expect to do well on the basis of that," he told BBC Breakfast.

Anger at the mounting scale of losses saw Tory leader Theresa May heckled as she gave a speech in Wales, with a man shouting: "Why don't you resign? We don't want you."

Meanwhile, former Brexit secretary David Davis said he will not run to replace Mrs May as PM and declared his support for Dominic Raab in the upcoming contest for Conservative leader.

He said Mr Raab, 45, was "the best-placed Brexit candidate to win the necessary support among MPs and party members and, above all, broaden our appeal to voters".

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