Theresa May has faced a direct call from a Conservative MP in the House of Commons to step down and hand over to a new Prime Minister.
Brexit-backing Andrea Jenkyns told Mrs May that she had “failed” in EU withdrawal negotiations and forfeited the trust of the public.
The full-frontal assault at Prime Minister’s Questions came as pressure increased on Mrs May to name a date for her departure, while cross-party Brexit talks with Labour dragged on without a conclusion.
Meanwhile, Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom said she is “seriously considering” standing for the Conservative leadership which will be triggered when Mrs May stands down.
The Prime Minister has promised to quit as Tory leader when the first phase of Brexit negotiations, dealing with divorce terms, is complete. But she is resisting calls from the backbench 1922 Committee for “clarity” on her plans if her Withdrawal Agreement fails to get through the Commons.
And with her effective deputy David Lidington suggesting he hopes the deal can be concluded by July, there is speculation she may seek to hang on until the annual party conference in the autumn.
Ms Leadsom, who stood for the leadership in 2016 but pulled out to give Mrs May a clear run at the job, told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain: “I’ve supported her for the last three years to get Brexit over the line. She has said she’s going, so yes I am seriously considering standing.”
Speaking at PMQs in the Commons shortly afterwards, Morley and Outwood MP Ms Jenkyns told MPs it was time for Mrs May to quit.
She said: “She’s tried her best, nobody could fault or doubt her commitment and sense of duty, but she has failed.
“The public no longer trust her to run Brexit negotiations. Isn’t it time to step aside and let someone else lead our country, our party and the Brexit negotiations?”
Mrs May retorted: “This is not an issue about me and it’s not an issue about her. If it were an issue about me and the way I vote, we would already have left the European Union.”
Another Leave-supporting Tory MP said she will not campaign and might not even vote for the Conservative candidate in the May 23 European elections.
Asked if she would be voting Tory, Maria Caulfield told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett: “I don’t know, I’m not going to say… I may not vote at all. I fundamentally disagree with holding these elections.”
The Lewes MP said she would not vote Ukip, but pressed on whether she might back Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, she said: “I don’t know. I will wait and see what the candidates are and make my decision then.”
Mr Farage told GMB that Mrs May should go: “Tory MPs have not got the backbone to get rid of her. They could have got rid of her last December, they should have done.
“She is without doubt not just the worst Prime Minister in my lifetime but the most dishonest as well.”
Senior Tory backbenchers on the executive of the 1922 Committee were meeting in Westminster to discuss the outcome of a meeting on Tuesday at which chair Sir Graham Brady is understood to have set out to Mrs May MPs’ concerns about her position in the wake of last week’s disastrous local elections.
But a Downing Street source indicated that Mrs May was resisting setting out any more explicit timetable for her departure.
“The PM made a very generous and bold offer to the 1922 Committee a few weeks ago that she would see through phase one of the Brexit process and she would leave and open up for new leadership for phase two,” said the source.
“That’s the timetable she is working towards. She wants to get Brexit done.”
The source declined to say what part Mrs May would play in campaigning for the European elections.
Asked whether the Tories will hold a formal campaign launch or publish a manifesto, the source said: “We announced a full slate of candidates last month and sent our election address out to UK households last week. We are up and running and our message is there’s only one party that can deliver Brexit.”
Meanwhile, talks on a compromise deal were continuing in Whitehall on Wednesday evening, with Labour insisting the Government still needs to shift on its red lines.
A Downing Street spokesman said talks were continuing in a “serious and constructive” way. He declined to put a deadline on a conclusion but said there was “an understanding on both sides that we need to get on with this”.
A Labour source indicated that the talks could not continue “indefinitely”.
“It’s not an indefinite process and we are looking to nail down in the next few days whether and how far the Government is prepared to move from its failed deal, which has been rejected three times in Parliament,” said the source.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox strongly rejected the idea of the UK remaining in the EU’s customs union, one of Labour’s key demands in the Brexit talks.
At a trade conference in London, he said it would be “bad for Britain” and leave access to the UK’s markets as a “commodity” to be traded by Brussels.
“The EU would be able to make access to the UK market part of their offer in any trade agreement and we would find ourselves in a unique position in our trading history in that we would be being traded.
“We would be a commodity in that particular agreement, where the EU would be able to offer access to the UK as part of their offer,” he said.
“It’s a situation that would leave the UK as a rule taker and in terms of our ability to shape trade policy would probably leave us in a worse situation than we are today, inside the EU.”