PM refuses to set out terms of her departure from Downing Street
Theresa May has rebuffed demands to set out a timetable for her departure from No 10 amid growing pressure from Tory MPs to make way for a new leader.
The chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, who met the Prime Minister privately on Tuesday, made clear she had not offered any further clarity about her future.
He said she would meet the committee’s 18-strong executive next week amid grass roots fury over the party’s worst local elections performance in 24 years.
Sir Graham suggested she could make a final effort to get her Brexit deal through Parliament before European elections on May 23, when the party is expected to suffer even heavier losses.
He said he expected ministers to bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – required to ratify her deal in law – in the “near future”.
“The executive is very keen to meet the Prime Minister and will have a full opportunity to discuss and to reach whatever conclusions it wishes to reach next week,” Sir Graham said.
“It’s my understanding it’s the Government’s intention to bring a second reading of the Bill forward in the near future, certainly the intention is before the European election takes place.”
At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Mr May faced a direct call from a Conservative MP to stand down.
Brexit-backing Andrea Jenkyns told Mrs May she had “failed” in EU withdrawal negotiations and forfeited the trust of the public.
“The public no longer trust her to run Brexit negotiations,” she said.
“Isn’t it time to step aside and let someone else lead our country, our party and the Brexit negotiations?”
Mrs May retorted: “This is not an issue about me and it’s not an issue about her.
“If it were an issue about me and the way I vote, we would already have left the European Union.”
Downing Street made clear the Prime Minister was not ready to go beyond her earlier promise to the 1922 to quit as Tory leader when the first phase of Brexit negotiations – dealing with the divorce terms – is complete.
“The PM made a very generous and bold offer to the 1922 Committee a few weeks ago that she would see through phase one of the Brexit process and she would leave and open up for new leadership for phase two,” a No 10 source said.
“That’s the timetable she is working towards. She wants to get Brexit done.”
With her effective deputy David Lidington suggesting he hoped a deal could be concluded by July, there is speculation she may seek to hang on until the annual party conference in the autumn.
Nigel Evans, the executive secretary of the 1922, warned she would need to give MPs some greater certainty before then.
“August 1 is the next new date,” he told the BBC.
“It could be kicked down the road even further. That’s not what we want. We want some clarity from the Prime Minister.”
Meanwhile, Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom said she is “seriously considering” standing for the Conservative leadership, which will be triggered when Mrs May stands down.
Ms Leadsom, who stood for the leadership in 2016 but pulled out to give Mrs May a clear run at the job, told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain: “I’ve supported her for the last three years to get Brexit over the line.
“She has said she’s going so yes I am seriously considering standing.”
Meanwhile, talks on a compromise deal were continuing in Whitehall, with Labour insisting the Government still needs to shift on its red lines.
Mr Lidington said there was a responsibility on all parties to try to find a way out of the deadlock.
“It has been difficult at times – I won’t deny that – because there are differences between the two political parties,” he said.
“But I think all Members of Parliament have a responsibility to try to work together.”
A Downing Street spokesman said talks were continuing in a “serious and constructive” way.
He declined to put a deadline on a conclusion but said there was “an understanding on both sides that we need to get on with this”.
A Labour source indicated the talks could not continue “indefinitely”.
“It’s not an indefinite process and we are looking to nail down in the next few days whether and how far the Government is prepared to move from its failed deal, which has been rejected three times in Parliament,” the source said.