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LONDON – Theresa May has had another bruising day with multiple Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in her. The number of MPs who have gone public with their letters was 22 at the time of the writing.
They are angry with the Brexit deal which May has negotiated with the EU, as it will keep the UK in a customs union with the EU for years after Brexit, and potentially create border checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The chair of the Tory party’s 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, must receive 48 letters for there to be a no-confidence vote. Pro-Brexit Conservatives believe they are close to reaching that threshold.
May went on LBC radio to defend her deal on Friday morning after suffering several resignations on Thursday, including Dominic Raab and Esther McVey who quit as Brexit Secretary and Work & Pensions Secretary.
She is being backed up by Cabinet Brexiteers Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Penny Mordaunt, who have opted to stay in government and attempt to change the details of the draft agreement.
Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd will replace McVey, while Raab’s successor is yet to be announced.
16:05 — Amber Rudd returns, replaces McVey as Work & Pensions Secretary
Amber’s back! After resigning as Home Secretary earlier this year following a series of cock-ups relating to the Windrush scandal and immigration policy, the MP Hastings and Rye has been chosen to succeed Esther McVey as Work & Pensions Secretary, according to multiple reports.
Rudd’s fierce loyalty to Theresa May has been rewarded with a return to Cabinet and responsibility of one of the government’s most controversial policies – Universal Credit.
14:29 PM — So, where’s the coup?
This morning leading Brexiteer Steve Baker sent a Whatsapp message to members of the anti-EU European Research Group claiming that the number of no confidence letters sent to Sir Graham Brady was “well over 48 with a dozen with probables on top.” If correct, that would trigger a no-confidence vote in Theresa May. This message was leaked to news organisations including Business Insider.
However, Baker now seems to be backtracking. A few hours ago the former junior Brexit minister claimed the number of letters was not “far off” the magic 48 but a few moments ago suggested we might not get to 48 until next week. So where is the Brexit coup?
Asked about this, a senior ERG source told BI that while they remain very confident of securing enough letters to force a vote of no confidence in May, they are in no particular rush to reach the threshold.
Indeed, some members of the group believe it would be better to wait for other events to force the issue. In particular, they’re looking to the Finance Bill which passes through the Commons early next week, where the DUP are threatening to vote against the government. If May loses that vote, they believe May’s authority will be shot and the threshold would be easily reached.
Ultimately, the only person who knows how many letters have been submitted is Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the Tory party’s 1922 committee, who has them piled up in his office and so far remains silent.
14:00 PM: Poll — Public thinks no Brexit or no deal would be better than May’s deal
The British public is against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, according to a new Survation poll.
Overall, 49% of respondents said they opposed May’s deal, while 27% said they supported it. Among Conservative voters, 42% said they were against the deal, while 37% supported it, pointing to the divided nature of the party.
Survation found that the country is divided on whether there should be another referendum. 42% said they want a People’s Vote on the outcome of Brexit talks, while 38% do not.
Asked what they’d vote for in another referendum, 43% of respondents said they’d vote to stay in the EU. 28% would vote to leave the EU without a deal, while just 16% would back May’s draft deal with the EU.
13:03 PM: Another Tory MP sends a no-confidence letter
Chris Green, MP for Bolton West & Atherton, becomes the twenty-second Tory to submit a letter of no-confidence in Theresa May. The Brexiteers are inching towards the 48 letters needed to trigger a vote in her leadership.
Green tweeted: “Many constituents have contacted me inquiring as to whether or not I have put my letter of no confidence in with Sir Graham Brady MP. With a heavy heart, I confirm that I have put my letter in calling for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, Theresa May.”
12:30 PM: Lunchtime summary
Theresa May’s bid to brave out what Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday denied was an attempted coup against her, appears to be working for now. Her press conference yesterday and her appearance on LBC this morning suggests that she is following what Tony Blair’s former press chief Alistair Campbell famously called the “masochism strategy.” When Blair was in trouble over the Iraq War, Campbell persuaded him to go in front of the cameras for multiple difficult confrontations, including on Question Time. The idea was that by braving such appearances, the prime minister was seen to be still in charge, even if it meant taking a public barracking or two.
May’s advisers are pointing her down a similar path with more awkward media experiences expected over the weekend. So will it work? Well the threat of yet more senior resignations from Cabinet appears to have subsided for now, with the prime minister set to reshuffle her top team within the next day or so. The long-promised 48 letters of no-confidence in May also have yet to materialise, despite Rees-Mogg’s public assault on her yesterday.
How long May can last until the 48 letter threshold is breached remains to be seen. However, in one sense this is all something of a sideshow. All that really matters is whether the prime minister can get her Brexit deal through parliament and right now the arithmetic for that looks incredibly bleak.
If she can’t get her deal through parliament then the prospect of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit will suddenly become very real indeed. And if that happens, the ins and outs of a possible Conservative leadership election will appear very parochial concerns indeed.
12:12 PM: Liam Fox tells Brexit rebels: ‘We’re not elected to do what we want’
Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been defending Theresa May this morning, telling reporters that Conservatives trying to get rid of her are not acting in the national interest. Here’s a clip.
Fox said: “We’re not elected to do what we want. We are elected to do what’s in the national interest. Ultimately I hope that across Parliament will realise that a deal is better than no deal. Businesses require certainty and confidence as they go forward with their planning.”
Earlier, he said: “I have full confidence in the Prime Minister. I think she is taking us forward with confidence and – I have to say – with resilience, and I very much agree with Michael Gove that what we need now is stability.”
Fox is a leading Brexiteer but has decided not to resign from Cabinet.
11:45 AM: Gove staying to get the ‘right deal in the future’
Michael Gove has made a statement explaining his decision to remain as Environment Secretary following speculation that he would resign.
He says: “I’ve had a very good morning in a series of meetings with my colleagues here at Defra, just making sure that we have the right policies on the environment, on farming and on fisheries for the future. “And I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with all my Government colleagues, and all my colleagues in Parliament in order to make sure that we get the best future for Britain. “I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people, we can get a good outcome.”
11:23 AM: May to appoint new Brexit Secretary this week
The prime minister’s spokesperson has just confirmed that Theresa May will appoint a new Brexit Secretary, contrary to reports that she would not choose someone to fill the vacancy left by Dominic Raab who resigned on Thursday.
A government source indicated that the appointment will be announced either today or tomorrow. Michael Gove has already turned down the job.
Who will May choose? Or perhaps the more pertinent question is, who actually wants the job?
10:43: Gove, Grayling, Leadsom, and Fox plan to stay in Cabinet and improve May’s Brexit deal
Senior Cabinet Brexiteers Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt and Andrea Leadsom have agreed collectively to stay in Cabinet to work together “to get this in a better place,” according to Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman, who credits a “very good source.”
That means the latest bout of Cabinet resignations is probably over for May. But she can’t breathe anything like a sigh of relief yet.
10:30 AM: It’s worth reading Mark Francois’s no-confidence letter in full. It’s punchy stuff.
10:23 AM: ‘She just doesn’t listen’ — Tory MP submits extraordinary no-confidence letter
Brexiteer Mark Francois has become the nineteenth MP to publicly submit a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister, saying it’s “something I thought I would never do.”
If 48 letters are submitted, a no-confidence vote is happening.
How many have been submitted total? That’s anyone’s guess.
10:00 AM: Brexiteers think a no-confidence vote is coming
The European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Tory MPs think a no-confidence vote is on the way. Business Insider’s Adam Payne hears from an ERG source that the group believes at least 48 letters of no confidence have been sent to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, which would trigger a vote in the prime minister’s leadership.
9:41 AM: Gove is staying
Michael Gove is staying as Environment Secretary, the Spectator and BBC are reporting.
May yesterday offered him the job of Brexit Secretary, but he rejected it because he was told he would not be allowed to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal deal.
09:10 AM — More letters of no confidence
This morning ex-Culture Secretary John Whittingdale revealed that he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Theresa May. He said: “I think we need a change of direction and we’re not going to get that under the current leader.”
On Thursday night, Adam Holloway MP used a social media post to reveal he had also submitted a letter. “You can not have someone leading the mission who does not believe in the mission. The country needs leadership.”
08:55 AM — What could happen today?
For 10 Downing Street, today will be about damage limitation.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has turned down the prime minister’s offer to be her next Brexit Secretary and reports suggest he could be the next minister to quit her Cabinet. He refused to declare his support for May during an interview outside his home on Friday morning. Here’s the clip.
Also keep an eye on International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom. Both decided not to resign yesterday. However, Mordaunt has demanded a free vote on the Brexit deal which doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, while a friend of Leadsom told Business Insider on Thursday that she wouldn’t resign in the 24 that hours that followed, meaning she hasn’t ruled out resigning today.
Meanwhile, the letters of no confidence continue to go into Graham Brady, chair of the Tory party’s 1922 committee. There needs to be 48 to trigger a confidence vote. The Huff Post’s Paul Waugh reports that government whips have been told to cancel all plans and report to Parliament for the entire day – a sign that the 48 threshold is close to being met?
08:30 AM: Theresa May refuses to say DUP will back her deal
Theresa May kicks off another difficult day with an interview with LBC Radio.
Asked about her relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party, the prime minister dismissed speculation that she has had “testy conversations” with DUP leader Arlene Foster but refused to say she DUP will vote for her deal.
The DUP is in a confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives to prop up May’s government. However, the Northern Irish party is furious with the Brexit deal.
The first question May received on LBC was from a Conservative councillor, who asked her to do “the right thing” and stand down as prime minister.