ENOUGH Tory MPs have requested a vote of no confidence in Theresa May to trigger a contest, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee has announced.
Sir Graham Brady said the threshold of 48 letters – 15% of the parliamentary party – needed to trigger a vote has been reached and a ballot will be held between 6pm and 8pm in the House of Commons and the result announced this evening.
“The votes will be counted immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible in the evening,” he said.
Mrs May has vowed to fight an effort to oust her as Conservative leader and Prime Minister “with everything I’ve got”.
In a dramatic early morning statement outside the door to 10 Downing Street, Mrs May warned a change of Prime Minister would put the UK’s future at risk and could delay or halt Brexit.
She insisted she would stay on to “finish the job” she has set herself as Prime Minister.
— Reuters UK (@ReutersUK) December 12, 2018
Mrs May will address Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee at 5pm this evening, immediately before voting begins. A source said she would also be speaking to individual Tory MPs during the day.
She needs the support of 158 MPs in the ballot – half of the parliamentary party plus one – in order to remain as leader.
But some observers believe that a large vote of 100 or more against the PM might be enough to make Mrs May question whether it is worth carrying on.
She also has to face the Commons at what may prove to be her last session of Prime Minister’s Questions at noon.
A string of Cabinet ministers, including some touted as possible replacements for Mrs May, have swiftly come out with statements of loyalty to her.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong. PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “I am backing Theresa May tonight. Being PM (is the) most difficult job imaginable right now and the last thing the country needs is a damaging and long leadership contest.
“Brexit was never going to be easy but she is the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU on March 29.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, another Cabinet minister seen as a possible leadership contender, tweeted: “I am backing the Prime Minister 100% – and I urge every Conservative MP to do the same. She is battling hard for our country and no-one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU.”
Brexit-backing International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt posted: “The Prime Minister has my full support, not least because she has always done what she firmly believes is in the national interest. Our country needs us all to fight for a good deal and prepare for a no-deal scenario. All eyes and hands should be on that task.”
Others voicing support for the PM included Chancellor Philip Hammond, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Justice Secretary David Gauke, Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire.
But in a joint statement, the chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers Jacob Rees-Mogg and his deputy Steve Baker said: “Theresa May’s plan would bring down the Government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it.
“Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go.”
The pound fell briefly in response to news of the challenge to Mrs May’s position, but later rallied.
A wave of new letters was submitted to Sir Graham amid anger at Mrs May’s dramatic decision on Monday to put on hold the crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal after admitting she was heading for a heavy defeat.
Former cabinet minister Owen Paterson was the latest MP to declare he had submitted a letter to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Speculation that a challenge could be imminent was fuelled after chief whip Julian Smith and Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis were seen leaving No 10 following late-night consultations on Tuesday.
Speculation about Mr Javid’s possible leadership ambitions was fuelled by an interview in the Spectator magazine in which he set out a broad-ranging vision for the Conservatives as the party which can “make a real difference to you as an individual in your life”.
He also appeared to take a swipe at Mrs May’s approach to immigration, saying that establishing control over the system was “far more important than someone saying: our immigration policy is about bringing numbers down, and nothing else”.
In his letter, published in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Paterson said Mrs May’s conduct of the Brexit negotiations had “eroded trust in the Government, to the point where I and many others can no longer take the Prime Minister at her word”.
The former Northern Ireland secretary and prominent Brexiteer said she had become a “blockage” to an agreement which Parliament and the country could support.
“She has repeatedly said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but it is clear her objective was to secure a deal at any cost,” he wrote.