May clings on as calls for her to quit gather momentum

Theresa May is under growing pressure to quit after a backlash over her last-ditch effort to get a Brexit deal through.

The Prime Minister will meet Sir Graham Brady, the representative of Tory backbench MPs, on Friday, for a meeting which could seal her fate.

The Prime Minister 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 a set of 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 Mrs 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.

One Tory MP described the outcome of the 1922 Committee meeting as “the can kicked down (the road) until Friday”.

Julian Smith
Chief Whip Julian Smith met Tory MPs amid speculation about Theresa May’s future (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In a sign of unrest at the highest levels of the Tory party, a series of Cabinet ministers asked for meetings with Mrs May to raise their concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) which would put the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan into law.

Downing Street sources said it was possible that the PM could meet Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday, but there was no confirmation that an audience would be granted for other ministers with reservations about the plan.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has asked for a meeting to discuss his concerns about the prospect of a second referendum, after Mrs May revealed she would grant MPs a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the public.

Sajid Javid
Home Secretary Sajid Javid is among ministers who want to discuss concerns about the Brexit plan with the Prime Minister (Isabel Infantes/PA)

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.

In a highly visible sign that Mrs May’s authority is slipping away, Brexit-supporting colleagues in the so-called Pizza Club were absent for the start of Prime Minister’s Questions, with Cabinet ministers including Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom only appearing once the session was well under way.

In the Commons, Mrs May appeared to acknowledge that her premiership was drawing to a close.

“In time, another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box,” she told MPs in a statement on her Brexit plan.

PMs with shortest time in office
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“But while I am here, I have a duty to be clear with the House about the facts.

“If we are going to deliver Brexit in this Parliament, we are going to have to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

“And we will not do so without holding votes on the issues that have divided us the most – that includes votes on customs arrangements and on a second referendum.”

How a Conservative leadership election works
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As Mrs May defended her deal in the face of hostility from all sides, arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg asked “is she going through the motions or does she really believe in it?”

Mrs May replied: “I don’t think I would have been standing here at the despatch box and be in receipt of some of the comments that I’ve been in receipt of, from colleagues on my own side and across the House, if I didn’t believe in what I was doing.”

The WAB will be published on Friday and Mrs May said backing it would help get the UK out of the EU by the end of July.

“We can bring an end to the months – years – of increasingly bitter argument and division that have both polarised and paralysed our politics,” she said.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister’s offer was “little more than a repackaged version” of her three-times rejected deal and told her: “This Government is too weak, too divided, to get this country out of the mess that they have created.”

Tory MPs were left frustrated at their inability to force the Prime Minister out of Number 10.

Former whip Michael Fabricant said there was “paralysis” and questioned “if there should be a vote of no confidence in the 1922 executive”.

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