Live: Theresa May pledges to fight on as Conservative MPs call on her to quit

GettyTheresa May


This is Business Insider’s politics live-blog charting the latest developments as May’s Brexit deal continues to unravel. Refresh the page for updates.

LONDON – Theresa May is facing the biggest test of her premiership after a chaotic day in Westminster saw multiple ministers including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Work & Pensions Secretary Esther McVey resign in protest at her Brexit plans.

McVey and Raab’s resignations followed a gruelling five-hour Cabinet meeting on Wednesday in which the prime minister tried to persuade sceptical ministers to support the deal she has negotiated the European Union.

While a majority of her Cabinet has agreed to stay in their position and support the draft agreement, May has dozens of government resignations, and MPs from all sides of the House of Commons have lined up to criticise the draft deal.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs loathe the deal because it means the UK will be in a customs union with the EU for years after Brexit, unable to sign meaningful trade deals with other countries, without the unilateral right to leave.


23:15: Theresa May’s grip on power grows more tenuous as DUP frustration builds.

Clodagh Kilcoyne – WPA Pool/Getty Images

There are rumblings these evening that the DUP are growing disillusioned with Theresa May. The Daily Telegraph’s Harry Yorke reported, citing senior sources in the Northern Irish party, that “the confidence and supply agreement is over – unless Theresa May goes.” (The confidence and supply agreement is the mechanism by which the party is propping up May’s minority Conservative government.)

Meanwhile, the DUP’s chief whip has told the BBC that “the confidence and supply deal is with the Conservative party – not the [Prime Minister].”


22:25: And here’s yet another vote of No Confidence for May…

There’s yet another vote of no confidence in Theresa May – this time from Adam Holloway MP. It’s not clear how close the votes are to that crucial threshold of 48.


22:00: Michael Gove has reportedly refused to become the next Brexit secretary.

Christopher Furlong / Getty

Rumours have swirled tonight that Michael Gove was being offered the role of Brexit Secretary after Dominic Raab’s resignation – but it sounds like he’s not biting.

According to Sam Coates over at The Times, Gove was offered the role, and has subsequently rejected it. It’s not clear whether Gove will now resign on Friday morning, given his strong pro-Brexit views and Brexiteers’ near-universal disgust with May’s Brexit deal.


PRESS CONFERENCE SNAP VERDICT: Unfazed May is ‘only delaying the inevitable reckoning she faces’

What does May’s press conference mean for her leadership prospects?

Here the snap verdict from Business Insider’s UK political editor Adam Bienkov, who was in the room.

“There were a few seconds at the start of Theresa May’s press conference this afternoon when it appeared that she may be about to resign. Her opening comments were pitched in such a way that the assembled press pack in the room took a collective intake of breath. However, it soon became clear that nothing had changed and she was in fact merely confirming that she is pushing ahead with her existing plans.

“And as holding statements go, this was a pretty effective one. The prime minister seemed relatively relaxed and unfazed by questions on her future, even managing to crack a couple of jokes. In the
past, May has publicly cracked under extreme pressure – most notably during her 2017 Conservative conference speech – but she did not crack today. Her enemies may be circling, but there was little sign from today’s press conference that she is willing to go down without a fight.

“The problem for May is that unfazed as she appears today, the reality of her position remains a bleak one. The events of the past 24 hours have made it abundantly clear that she does not have the numbers to get her deal through parliament and may even be forced to stand down before she has a chance to put it to the test. By continuing to refuse to face up to that reality she is only delaying the inevitable reckoning she faces.”


18:03: Is Michael Gove about to resign?

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is reporting that Environment Secretary Michael Gove could be about to resign. He has reportedly held a meeting with the prime minister which likely means one of two things. He’s either accepted the vacant Brexit secretary job, or he’s resigned. It’s more likely to be the latter.


17:41: May stays quiet on Gove reports

Responding to reports that Michael Gove rejected the newly vacant role of Brexit secretary, May kept quiet.

She said: “Michael has been doing an excellent job at Defra … I haven’t appointed a new DxEU secretary and I will of course be making new appointments to the government in due course.”


17:39: May takes aim at her critics but admits she shares their ‘concerns’ over her own deal

Theresa May has admitted she herself is concerned by elements of the draft Withdrawal deal she has negotiated, but she says she is still waiting to see a better alternative.

It is worth reading her comments in full. They represent a rare moment of candid, honest speaking from a prime minister whose premiership has been governed by repetitive and often meaningless soundbites.

“MPs have been debating the best way to deliver the result of the referendum since the referendum took place in 2016,” she said.

“And there’s been much criticism throughout that time of the government’s approach. People have been ready to point out what they don’t like. But one simple fact remains, and that is that nobody has produced any alternative proposal which both delivers on the referendum and also ensures there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

“I understand some people feel uncomfortable about the details in the backstop particularly in the Withdrawal Agreement, and I share some of those concerns. But there’s another inescapable fact. There’s no deal which can be agreed with the European Union that does not involve a backstop to act as an insurance policy against a return to the borders of the past in Northern Ireland.

“All the other approaches – Norway, Canada Plus, etc – they would all require a backstop. The alternative of repudiating that backstop would not only mean reneging on a promise to the people of Northern Ireland, but it would also collapse the negotiation and end hopes of securing a deal.”


17:29: May’s not going anywhere: ‘Am I going to see this through? Yes.’

Responding to the question of whether she’d stay and fight a leadership contest, Theresa May says: “Leadership is about taking the right decisions not the easy ones.”

“Am I going to see this through? Yes,” she adds.


17:24: Theresa May is up.

She tells assembled reporters: “My approach throughout has been to put the national interest first, not a partisan interest, and certainly not my own political interest.”

“This is a Brexit that delivers on the priorities of the British people,” she adds.


17:21: Theresa May is late

BBC News

Theresa May is late for a press conference which was scheduled for 17.00.

This promises to be another very tough test for the prime minister. Should she come out and make the case for her deal, or will she address the fact she has lost two of her Cabinet ministers today?

One more thing to consider. This is a press conference, which means she will face a barrage of tough questions from reporters, unlike the statement she gave yesterday.


16:53 PM — Is May finally about to fall?

GettyBritish Prime Minister Theresa May.

Adam Bienkov, Business Insider’s UK political editor, argues that while May has battled adversity and won numerous times in the past, she won’t be able to survive this current crisis.

“When Theresa May lost her majority at last year’s general election, most people predicted that her days as prime minister would be numbered.

“She has outlived those predictions and continues to outlive them now, despite the resignation of almost two dozen members of her government, including her foreign secretary and not one but two Brexit secretaries.

“But while reports of May’s imminent demise have long been greatly exaggerated, something feels very different this time.

“For the first time it has become all but impossible to see a credible route out of the current crisis facing the prime minister.”


16:45 PM: British public turning against Brexit — Sky poll

The British public would prefer to stay in the European Union rather than accept May’s draft Brexit deal or leave with no deal,according to a poll published by Sky in the last few minutes.

The survey found that 55% of people back a referendum on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, or what campaigners call a People’s Vote, while 35% do not.

When asked how they’d vote in another referendum, just 14% said they’d support May’s deal, 32% said they’d like to leave without a deal, while 54% said they’d vote to stay in the EU.

Worrying for the prime minister. Encouraging for People’s Vote campaigners.


16:13 PM: EU leader Donald Tusk — We are ready for no Brexit

In comments that probably won’t help Theresa May, European Council President Donald Tusk has this afternoon suggested that the EU is ready for Brexit to be cancelled.

“The EU is prepared for a final deal with the UK in November. “We are also prepared for a no-deal scenario but of course we are best prepared for a no-Brexit scenario.”


16:02 PM: No majority for a Rees-Mogg Brexit, Remainer Tory says

Stephen Hammond

Stephen Hammond MP – one of the Conservative party’s leading pro-EU MPs – has issued a warning to MPs who want to get rid of May and deliver a harder exit from the EU.

He tweeted: “Changing leader would not change the fact there is no majority in the House of Commons for ‘No Deal’ or a hard Brexit.”

The MP for Wimbledon has a point. Changing the prime minister will not change the fact that there is no majority for leaving the EU without a deal.


15:21 PM: The letters keep coming…

Twitter/@sheryllmurray

Sheryll Murray and Lee Rowley are the latest Conservative MPs to reveal they have submitted letters of no confidence in Theresa May.

Murray, the MP for South East Cornwall, says in her statement (which you can read above) that the draft Brexit deal will leave the UK without full fishing rights and wedded to EU rules for years after Brexit.

Rowley, the MP for North East Derbyshire, told ITV: “I’ve come to the conclusion that the prime minister isn’t going to change her policy.”


15:05 PM: Conservative party vice chair quits

Twitter/@Rehman_Chisti

Rehman Chisti MP has resigned from his roles as Conservative party vice chair and trade envoy to Pakistan over the draft Brexit deal.

In his letter to Theresa May, Chisti accused the prime minister of breaking the Conservative party’s manifesto promise to leave the single market and customs union. Chisti said the draft deal would leave Britain trapped in “hybrid membership of the EU single market and customs union and further the EU would hold a veto over our ability to exit.”


14:40 PM: Andrea Leadsom not resigning today

A rare piece of good news for Theresa May. House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom will not follow Dominic Raab and Esther McVey and resign from the government today. She intends to stay on and attempt to convince May to change the deal.

Leadsom is one of Cabinet’s leading Brexiteers and has been close to resigning in the last few weeks over her concerns with the Irish border backstop, Business Insider reported.

However, Leadsom resigning at some point in the very near future can’t be ruled out. When BI asked her close ally when if she’ll quit, they said: “Not today.”


14:22 PM: Read Steve Baker’s no confidence letter

Twitter/@SteveBakerHW

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker has become the latest senior Conservative MP to submit a letter of no confidence in Theresa May. In it, he says May’s draft Brexit deal is bad for the UK and will hand the keys of Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

“Colleagues ought now to answer whether Theresa May should be allowed to continue taking our country down this path to failure, humiliation and, later, impoverishment under Labour.”


13:52 PM: Could May disband the Brexit department?

The Guardian’s deputy political editor Pippa Crerar is hearing rumours that Downing Street could simply disband the Brexit cabinet. It follows reports that Michael Gove turned down the opportunity to replace Dominic Raab as Brexit secretary. The move would not be entirely surprising: The Brexit department has become increasingly sidelined in negotiations in recent months.


13:40 PM: Did Gove turn down the Brexit secretary job?

The Evening Standard’s second edition leads with a report that environment secretary Michael Gove has turned down an offer to be Brexit secretary following Dominic Raab’s resignation. More details to follow.


13:42 PM: Leading Brexiteer Steve Baker calls for May to quit

Steve Baker, a leading figure within the eurosceptic European Research Group of Tory MPs, has joined calls for May to quit. Speaking alongside ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg, he told reporters he had lost confidence in the prime minister.


13:30 PM: Read Rees-Mogg’s no confidence letter in full

Jacob Rees-Mogg has submitted his letter of no confidence in Theresa May.

In it, he claims it is of “considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place.”

Here’s the full letter:

A few weeks ago, in a conversation with the Chief Whip I expressed my concern that the Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May, was losing the confidence of Conservative Members of Parliament and that it would be in the interest of the Party and the country if she were to stand aside. I have wanted to avoid the disagreeable nature of a formal Vote of No Confidence with all the ill will that this risks engendering.

Regrettably, the draft Withdrawal Agreement presented to Parliament today has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister, either on her own account or on behalf of us all in the Conservative Party Manifesto.

That the Conservative and Unionist Party is proposing a Protocol which would create a different regulatory environment for an integral part of our country stands in contradistinction to our long-held principles. It is in opposition to the Prime Minister’s clear statements that this was something that no Prime Minister would ever do and raises questions in relation to Scotland that are open to exploitation by the Scottish National Party.

The 2017 Election Manifesto said that the United Kingdom would leave the Customs Union. It did not qualify this statement by saying that we could stay in it via a backstop while Annex 2, Article 3 explicitly says that we would have no authority to set our own tariffs. It is also harder to leave this backstop than it is to leave the EU, there is no provision equivalent to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Prime Minister also promised an implementation period which was the reason for paying £39 billion. As was made clear by a House of Lords report in March 2017 there is no legal obligation to pay anything. This has now become an extended period of negotiation which is a different matter.

The situation as regards the European Court of Justice appears to have wandered from the clear statement that we are taking back control of our laws. Article 174 makes this clear as does Article 89 in conjunction with Article 4.

It is of considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place. Regrettably, this is not the situation, therefore, in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures of the Conservative Party and the 1922 Committee this is a formal letter of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May.

I am copying this letter to the Prime Minister and the Chief Whip and although I understand that it is possible for the correspondence to remain confidential I shall be making it public.


13:20 PM: Conservative Brexiteers split on whether to challenge May

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs is split on whether to submit letters of no confidence in Theresa May. As reported in the last few minutes, group leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has decided to submit a letter. Simon Clarke MP has today submitted a letter. Others will follow.

However, two members have told Business Insider they are reluctant to submit letters. Edward Leigh MP said he won’t submit a letter and that “there is a genuine difference of opinion” in the group. Another said they are “very unlikely” to do so before Brexit day in March 2019.


13:00 PM: Rees-Mogg to submit letter of no confidence in Theresa May

Jacob Rees-Mogg will today submit a letter of no confidence in Theresa May.

The leading pro-Brexit MP will submit his letter on Thursday in anger over the draft Brexit deal negotiated by the prime minister, a spokesperson of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs which Rees-Mogg leads has just told journalists.

It could be a matter of when, not if, May will face a no-confidence vote.


12:40 PM: Another junior minister quits over Brexit

Twitter/@TeamRanil

Ranil Jayawardena has quit as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Justice over Theresa May’s draft Brexit plan.

In his letter to the prime minister, he said: “… I cannot agree, in the cold light of day, that the deal in front of us is right for our country. It does not deliver a good or fair Brexit.”


12:30 PM: Raab is a “carpet bagger,” Scotland Secretary says

Twitter/@ITVBorderRBDavid Mundell speaking to ITV on Thursday.

Dominic Raab is a “carpet bagger,” according to his former Cabinet colleague David Mundell.

Mundell, who has decided to stay on as Scotland Secretary despite his concerns over the draft Brexit deal, took a swipe at Raab who quit as Brexit Secretary this morning. Here’s the clip.

“I’m not taking lessons on standing up for the United Kingdom from carpetbaggers. Only a couple of years ago, Dominic Raab was proposing to introduce a bill of rights into Scotland that would have overridden the Scottish legal system and devolution. So I’m not impressed by his latter-day commitment to the union. I’m sure this is more about maneuvring and leadership.”

Ouch.


12:15 PM: May prepared to fight no-confidence vote

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Theresa May would fight a leadership challenge, her spokesperson has just said.

In order for there to be a leadership contest, 48 Conservative MPs would first need to send letters to Graham Brady, chairman of the party’s 1922 committee. If this happens, Conservative MPs would then vote whether to hold a confidence vote in Theresa May. If fewer than 158 Conservative MPs voted to support May, then a leadership contest would take place.

If this happened, May would take part in the contest and fight to keep her job, her spokesperson said.


11:50 AM: Former ministers back May’s deal

A bit of better news for Theresa May. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd and former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan have both declared support for the draft Brexit deal in the last few minutes. Both campaigned for Remain.

However, Conservative MP Mark Francois warned the prime minister that it will be “mathematically impossible” for May to get the deal through Parliament.

He told the prime minister: “Labour will vote against the deal, the SNP will, the Lib Dems will, the DUP will. Over 80 backbench Conservative MPs will.

“It is mathematically impossible to get this deal through. The stark reality is it’s dead upon arrival… I plead with you to accept the political reality.”


11:30 AM: Jacob Rees-Mogg threatens to oust Theresa May

Jacob Rees-Mogg – leader of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs – has just threatened to submit a letter of no confidence in Theresa May.

Rees-Mogg, who up until now has been reluctant to force a leadership contest, accused May of breaking promises relating to the customs union and European Court of Justice, and asked the prime minister why he shouldn’t send a letter to Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative party’s 1922 committee.

“As what my right honourable friend says and what my right honourable friend does no longer match should I not write to my right honourable friend the member for Altrincham and Sale West?” Rees-Mogg said.

An ERG source has told Business Insider that the group will meet at 12:45 pm to decide its next move…


11:25 AM: Scotland Secretary set to stay in government

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Scotland Secretary David Mundell is set to make a statement today explaining why he won’t be resigning from Theresa May’s government despite his concerns over the draft Brexit deal, a source close to Mundell has told Business Insider.

Mundell wrote a letter to May on Wednesday outlining his concerns about what the deal could mean for the UK’s fishing rights after Brexit. Fishing is a hugely important issue in Scotland and Conservatives there want full control over domestic waters after Brexit.

Mundell’s refusal to resign has gone down like a lead balloon among Scottish Conservative MPs. One told BI that he is a “coward.”


11:15 AM: DUP — Theresa May “clearly doesn’t listen”

Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesNigel Dodds MP.

Extraordinary scenes are unfolding in the House of Commons.

Nigel Dodds MP – whose Democratic Unionist Party props up Theresa May’s Conservative government – has accused the prime minister of betraying the DUP and Northern Ireland.

Dodds said to May: “I could stand here today and take her through the list of promises and pledges she made to this House and to us in private but I fear it would be a waste of time because she clearly doesn’t listen.”

The DUP is furious with the draft Brexit plan because according to the backstop proposal, there will be new checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.


10:50 AM: Theresa May warns Brexit rebels that the UK could stay in the EU.

Getty

Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons, Theresa May has laid out the choices shes believes are on the table for the UK: “We can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all, or we can unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated.”Here’s a clip.

Her claim that Brexit might not happen at all will be a message to angry, pro-Leave MPs who are considering voting down her deal. However, it will come as good news to MPs who support for the People’s Vote campaign for another referendum.


10.30 AM: Theresa May is facing MPs in the House of Commons. It’s going to be gruelling.

Sky News

10.20 AM: Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan announces she has resigned as PPS to the education ministers.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP

She tweeted: “It is with sadness that I have submitted my letter of resignation as PPS to the Education Ministers to the Prime Minister. It has been a joy and a privilege to have served in defence and education.”


10.19 AM: Junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman resigns.

Suella Braverman MPSuella Braverman’s resignation letter.

Tory MP Suella Braverman has announced her resignation as junior minister in the Brexit department.


10:05 AM: Work & Pensions secretary Ester McVey resigns

Ester McVey, the secretary of state for work and pensions, has resigned from her post in protest at May’s Brexit plan.

The minister joined Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab in stepping down on Thursday in a joint blow to Theresa May’s authority which raises the prospect of several more imminent Cabinet resignations.

In a letter to the prime minister, she said: “I cannot defend this and I cannot vote for this deal I could not look my constituents in the eye were I to do that. I therefore have no alternative but to resign from the government.”


9:00 AM: Brexit secretary Dominic Raab resigns

Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images)

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has resigned in a dramatic blow to Theresa May’s authority after saying he cannot “in good conscience” support the prime minister’s plan for leaving the EU.

In his letter to the prime minister, Raab – who was closely involved in drafting the agreement – said that he “cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election,” adding that it was a “matter of public trust.”

He said that plans to keep Northern Ireland attached to EU regulations after Brexit and prevent a hard border posed a “very real threat” to the integrity of the United Kingdom and amounted to an attempt to keep Britain tied to the EU indefinitely.

The prime minister was braced on Thursday morning for more resignations risking the potential break-up of her Cabinet and the end of her premiership.

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