Tories turn on May as she battles to save her Brexit deal
Tories stepped up their attacks on Theresa May as she sought to win support for her Brexit deal.
Mrs May faced mounting pressure from her own party to quit or face being ousted, but the Prime Minister insisted “I believe in what I’m doing”.
In a Commons statement she appeared to acknowledge that her premiership was drawing to a close, having already said she will set out a timetable for her departure after the crunch vote on her Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).
“In time another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box,” she told MPs.
“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.”
The prospect of a vote on whether to put the deal to a referendum has caused alarm within the Tory ranks.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell is among ministers with 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 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.
The beleaguered Prime Minister also faces a fresh bid by backbenchers to eject her from Downing Street when the 1922 Committee meets.
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.
But 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.
In the Commons, as Mrs May defended her deal in the face of hostility from all sides, arch-Brexiteer Mr 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 would 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.
“We can move on, move forwards, and get on with the jobs we were sent here to do, what we got into politics to do.
“That is what we can achieve if we support this new deal.
“Reject it, and all we have before us is division and deadlock.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister’s offer was “little more than a repackaged version” of her three-times rejected deal.
He told her: “This Government is too weak, too divided to get this country out of the mess that they have created.”
Earlier, Cabinet minister Michael Gove refused to guarantee that the WAB would now go to the Commons for a vote as planned in the week beginning June 3.
Environment Secretary Mr Gove refused to commit to that timetable, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward.”
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright also refused to give a “definitive” commitment to the timetable.
In the Commons, Mrs May said only that the Bill would return “after the Whitsun recess” – Parliament returns on June 4 following the break.
But a Downing Street spokesman insisted “our commitment to have the second reading of that Bill in that week remains”.
Downing Street acknowledged the “difficult task” of getting support for the WAB.
“The PM is focused on the job at hand,” a spokesman said.
“And what the last 24 hours or so have proved is that it’s a big one.”
In a sign of the Tory anger at the proposals, former cabinet minister Priti Patel said: “We are seeing the continual betrayal of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave and this will give succour to all those who want to defy democracy. ”
Theresa Villiers, another ex-Cabinet minister, said: “This deal is even worse than the last one.
“It has all the downsides of the original deal but it would also lock us even more firmly into the EU’s customs orbit. It is a betrayal and I will not vote for it. It would not deliver Brexit.”