May meets with Cabinet colleagues to discuss her under-fire Brexit legislation

Theresa May is to meet with Cabinet colleagues to discuss her heavily-criticised Brexit legislation as speculation mounted that she is on the verge of quitting.

The Prime Minister was understood to be holding talks with senior ministers on Thursday as the key Bill was pulled from the Commons schedule.

Downing Street had insisted the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) would go before MPs in the week beginning June 3, but it was not announced when the Government set out the forthcoming Commons agenda.

On Wednesday, Downing Street had said the WAB would be published on Friday and debated by MPs in the first week of June.

But Government whip Mark Spencer, outlining forthcoming business in the Commons on Thursday, said: “We will update the House on the publication and introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on our return from the Whitsun recess.”

He later told MPs: “We do intend to publish the Withdrawal Agreement Bill the week commencing the 3rd of June.”

Number 10 announced it had appointed Mel Stride, a Remainer, as Commons Leader following the dramatic resignation of Andrea Leadsom on Wednesday night – who stormed out of Government in protest at Mrs May’s Brexit stance.

Brexit
New Commons Leader Mel Stride

Asked if it was time for Prime Minister Theresa May to resign, Andrea Leadsom told reporters on Thursday: “Well, that’s 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’s fate looks set to be sealed on Friday when she meets Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs.

Demands from Tory MPs for her to resign are continuing to surge following Cabinet turmoil over her Brexit strategy.

However Mrs May’s spokesman refused to be drawn on speculation about the future of her premiership.

Ahead of the PM’s showdown meeting with Sir Graham, 1922 Committee treasurer Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told the Press Association: “I want her to give a timetable for when she will go.

“I think this blank denial from Number 10 today may be a smokescreen because she does not want to influence the outcome of the European elections.

“Maybe she will still quit tomorrow.”

Asked what would happen if the PM did not announce a resignation date, Sir Geoffrey said: “I think there will be overwhelming pressure for the ’22 to change the rules and hold a ballot on confidence in the Prime Minister.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has requested a meeting with Mrs May on Thursday but refused to say what would be discussed, insisted she would still be PM when US President Donald Trump makes a state visit to the UK from June 3.

And Digital minister Margot James said the PM is being “hounded out of office”.

Cabinet resignations & dismissals 1998-2019
(PA Graphics)

Ms James, speaking after attending an event in London on Thursday, 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 May has previously agreed to set out the timetable for the contest to replace her after a vote on her latest Brexit deal.

But that deadline appears to have been brought forward with the announcement she will meet Sir Graham the day after the EU vote 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.

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