Wednesday 17 July 2019

May under siege in Downing Street as ministers turn on her and Leadsom quits

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters
UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters

Gordon Rayner

Theresa May was bunkered down in Downing Street last night, as her ministers turned on her and Andrea Leadsom resigned from the Cabinet.

The UK prime minister was accused of shutting herself in with "the sofa against the door" after she refused to meet ministers Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, who were expected to confront her over her "disastrous" new Brexit deal.

Ministers and backbenchers told her she had "run out of road" and spent the day urging her to quit before polls open in today's European Parliament elections, in the hope it would limit the scale of the expected Tory defeat.

An eve-of-election poll put the party on just 7pc, which would potentially deliver its worst-ever election result. However, Mrs May was still clinging to power last night after a day in which she had faced three separate plots to oust her.

The pressure on her increased dramatically with the resignation of Mrs Leadsom, the Leader of the House.

Mrs Leadsom, whose job was to announce Government business in the House of Commons, said she could not "fulfil my duty" by proposing a Brexit Bill that "I fundamentally oppose".

With a clear plea to Mrs May to quit, she said: "I now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this government and our party."

Mrs Leadsom, who intends to stand for the Tory leadership when Mrs May stands down, had been encouraged by allies to quit so she could wash her hands of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will be published tomorrow.

There are now fears in Downing Street that the resignation could prompt a domino effect among other leadership rivals and Brexiteers who could follow her out the door.

Mrs May will come under renewed pressure to resign today when a succession of Cabinet ministers troop into No 10 to say they cannot support her Brexit plan.

She has also agreed to meet Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, tomorrow to discuss her future.

As Mrs May was accused of refusing to accept reality, Iain Duncan Smith, who led the Conservative Party from 2001 to 2003, said: "The sofa is up against the door. She's not leaving. She is like a female version of Gordon Brown: needing to be got rid of, but locked in the bunker and refusing to go. Her deal is dead, but she is stubbornly playing for time."

Another Tory MP said: "We've got to change the rules to get her out. Who does she think she is? Imelda Marcos?"

Support for Mrs May from some members of her Cabinet evaporated after ministers were shown a draft version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which explicitly laid out a path to a legally binding second referendum. Ministers said they had not agreed to the policy in Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, as they believed the vote on a second referendum would only be advisory.

In her resignation letter, Mrs Leadsom said: "I do not believe that we will be a truly sovereign United Kingdom through the deal that is now proposed."

A Cabinet minister told 'The Telegraph': "We are going to push very, very hard to make sure that this Bill does not see the light of day. It's a disaster.

"She's run out of road, there's nowhere to go."

More than 70 Tory MPs, including leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, have now said they will vote against Mrs May's Bill, meaning she is on course for a 150-vote defeat.

Even supporters of the deal, including Sir Edward Leigh and Nicky Morgan, have urged her to pull it, but No 10 insists it will be published.

Mrs May had already agreed to announce the timetable of her departure after a vote on the Bill in the first week of June, but with the Bill seemingly doomed, Brexiteers said there was no point in Mrs May staying on a single day longer.

As Mr Graham is to meet Mrs May tomorrow, it has led to speculation that Mrs May could choose that as the time to announce her resignation. Loyalists are now said to be urging Mrs May to quit with dignity, rather than suffering the humiliation of being forced out.

One minister said that 200 Tory MPs would vote against Mrs May if the rules were changed. Cabinet sources speculated that Mrs May could announce her departure in a "podium moment" outside No 10 on Monday, following the expected disaster at the European Parliament elections.

Irish Independent

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