Cabinet ministers urge May to ditch her Brexit plan as she clings on to power
Theresa May has been urged by Cabinet colleagues to scrap her heavily criticised Brexit legislation as speculation mounted about her future.
The Prime Minister was involved in a “frank” discussion with Home Secretary Sajid Javid, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt made clear he did not believe her Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) could get through the Commons.
The Prime Minister will discuss her leadership in a meeting on Friday with backbench leader Sir Graham Brady amid speculation she could set out the timetable for her exit from Number 10.
The WAB had been due to be published on Friday but that has been delayed in a sign of the chaos at the top of the Government.
MPs were told that the Government intends to publish the Bill in the week beginning June 3.
Downing Street had previously insisted the WAB would go before MPs for a vote that week, but it was not announced when the Government set out the forthcoming Commons agenda.
The scale of Cabinet concern over the legislation – which led to Andrea Leadsom’s resignation on Wednesday night – was made clear by two of Mrs May’s most senior ministers.
Mr Hunt is understood to have told the Prime Minister to pull the WAB, saying it was clear it would not pass.
It was a “step too far” to ask Tory MPs to vote for it under those circumstances, he told the Prime Minister.
Mr Javid had a “frank discussion” with the Prime Minister about the plan, making it clear he does not believe the Government should be “paving the way” for a second referendum.
He is understood to be pleased with the delay to the publication of the WAB and neither minister is expected to follow Mrs Leadsom out of the Cabinet.
Mrs May appointed Mel Stride, a Remainer, as Commons Leader following Mrs Leadsom’s departure.
The Prime Minister’s meeting with Sir Graham, chairman of the 1922 Committee, could seal her fate – although some Tory MPs believe she may still try to cling on.
A 1922 Committee source said they expected Mrs May would stay until June 10, but warned there would be “much greater pressure” for her to go immediately if she introduces the WAB.
“Hopefully what will happen is she will stand down as Tory leader I think on or before June 10, and she will hopefully remain as caretaker Prime Minister until such time as a new Tory leader is elected,” they said.
“My feeling is that she will stay until June 10.”
The source said a new leader would ideally be in place by the end of the summer to get a Brexit deal through Parliament before October 31.
The Foreign Secretary said he expected Mrs May to still be Prime Minister when US President Donald Trump visits the UK on June 3.
In response to a question following a speech at the National Cyber Security Centre, he said: “Theresa May will be Prime Minister to welcome him and rightly so.”
Digital minister Margot James told the Press Association: “It’s all very regrettable but she’s being hounded out of office because Parliament will not make a decision and the parties just have an inability to compromise.
“But in the end there’s got to be a compromise.”
Mrs Leadsom said the Prime Minister’s future was “a matter for her”.
“But, for me, I felt I couldn’t in all conscience stand up and deliver the business statement today with the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in it that I couldn’t support elements of.
“So, I have no doubts that I made the right decision and, of course, it’s for the Prime Minister to decide what’s right for her and for the country.”
Mrs May has previously agreed to set out the timetable for the contest to replace her after a vote on her latest Brexit deal, which had been expected on June 7.
But that deadline appears to have been brought forward with the announcement she will meet Sir Graham on Friday after the European elections, in which the Tories are widely expected to be hammered by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
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 existing rules Mrs May would be safe from another confidence motion until December.
Reports suggest the committee’s executive took a secret ballot on bringing a confidence vote forward, and could release the results if Mrs May fails to set a firm exit date on Friday.