Theresa May’s leadership under pressure after Brexit deal backlash from Tories
Theresa May is under fresh pressure to quit as Prime Minister after a furious response from Conservatives to her latest Brexit proposals.
Senior Tory MPs will again seek to change party rules to allow a confidence vote in her leadership if she refuses to leave Number 10.
Amid anger at the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), Cabinet minister Michael Gove refused to guarantee that it would now go to the Commons for a vote as planned in early June.
Mrs May had previously promised the Bill would be put before MPs in the week beginning June 3.
Prominent Brexiteer Mr Gove refused to commit to that timetable, saying: “We will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward.”
But on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he stressed “there has to be a vote” on a Bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement if the UK is to leave the EU with a deal.
Mr Gove said the WAB would be published on Wednesday and “I think the most important thing we should do is reflect on all the options in front of us”.
He added: “I can understand the strong feelings – I have strong feelings – on leaving the European Union that have been aired and articulated over the course of the last 24 hours.
“I think it is also important that there is a period of reflection and a period of analysis as we look at what the Prime Minister has put forward.”
Mrs May will face MPs later on Wednesday when she makes a statement on her plan, following her regular Prime Minister’s Questions grilling.
The beleaguered Prime Minister faces a fresh bid to eject her from Downing Street from the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, which then meets later on Wednesday.
Nigel Evans, who sits on the 1922’s executive, said he would be seeking a rule change to hold another confidence vote and the Prime Minister should “make way for fresh leadership without handcuffing her successor to a poisoned baton”.
Following the failed bid to oust her in 2018, under the existing rules Mrs May should be safe from another confidence motion until December.
European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested it would be “more dignified and more elegant” if Mrs May followed the constitutional convention of quitting because she could not command a Commons majority rather than relying on an internal Tory rule change to depose her.
Asked about Mrs May’s future and whether she would still be Prime Minister next Tuesday, after the results of the European election are clear, Mr Gove said: “I am a supporter of the Prime Minister, I voted for her in the last vote of confidence, I believe that she is working incredibly hard in a difficult situation in order to find a way through for this country, and she has my respect and support… I think the Prime Minister will be Prime Minister next Tuesday, yes.”
Mrs May has written to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a plea for support for the WAB, telling him: “I have shown… that I am willing to compromise to deliver Brexit for the British people.
“The WAB is our last chance to do so. I ask you to compromise too so that we can deliver what both our parties promised in our manifestos and restore faith in our politics.”
But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Today that Mrs May should abandon the Bill in its current form.
“The Prime Minister needs to, today, accept that what she announced yesterday isn’t going to work and pull the vote,” he said.
“She has still got time to say ‘I do know what the central concerns of the Labour Party are and I’m prepared to put a concrete policy proposition on the face of the Bill on the issues of a close economic relationship and on the issue of a public vote’.”
Mrs May needs Labour support if she is to stand any chance of getting the legislation through, because the proposals set out on Tuesday failed to win over Tory critics or her DUP allies.
Leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab were among Tories who backed Mrs May’s deal in March but they have vowed to oppose the Bill.
Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson said: “We can and must do better – and deliver what the people voted for.”
Former Brexit secretary Mr Raab said: “I cannot support legislation that would be the vehicle for a second referendum or customs union.”