Sunday 17 February 2019

Theresa May tells Conservative MPs she won't lead party into next general election

  • Ballot to be held between 6pm-8pm today with result announced shortly after
  • Mrs May's visit to Dublin cancelled
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

British Prime Minister Theresa May has told Conservative MPs she will not lead the party into the next general election.

The promise came as Mrs May fought to retain her place as Tory leader ahead of a confidence vote of MPs.

Mrs May addressed Conservative MPs at a meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee moments before the crucial vote began at 6pm.

Afterwards, Cabinet minister Amber Rudd told reporters: "She's made the commitment that I think is what people wanted, but she was very clear that she wont be taking the general election in 2022."

Solicitor General Robert Buckland told reporters: "She said 'In my heart I would like to lead the party into the next election' and then that was the introductory phrase to her indication that she would accept the fact that that would not happen, that is not her intention."

Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was not persuaded to vote for the Prime Minister in the ballot.

Get a grip: Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Netherlands. Picture: AP
Get a grip: Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Netherlands. Picture: AP

He told the Press Association: "It was all the same old stuff. Nothing has changed."

Conservative MP Nick Boles tweeted: "Theresa May was crystal clear: she will not lead the Conservative Party into the next general election. She now deserves the support of all Conservative MPs so she can get on with the job of delivering a Brexit compromise that can win a Commons majority."

Mrs May looked set to see off the challenge to her leadership, as scores of Tory MPs made public statements of support ahead of the confidence vote.

Earlier Mrs May said she would fight a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party later on Wednesday with "everything I have got".

Speaking outside Downing Street, Mrs May said that changing Conservative leader would “put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it” and could lead to Brexit being delayed or prevented.

"A new leader wouldn't be in place by Jan. 21 legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in Parliament," May said.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

"A new leader wouldn't have time to re-negotiate a withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through Parliament by March 29, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it," she said.

Following her statement, Mrs May cancelled a meeting of her cabinet of senior ministers which had been scheduled for later on Wednesday, her office said.

Her announcement comes after lawmakers in May's Conservative Party on Wednesday triggered a confidence vote in her leadership after Britain's planned divorce from the European Union was plunged into chaos.

With less than four months left until the United Kingdom is due to exit on March 29, the world's fifth largest economy was tipping towards crisis, opening up the prospect of a disorderly no-deal divorce or a reversal of Brexit through a referendum.

The weakness of British Prime Minister Theresa May "has completely immobilised the government at this critical time for the country", the chairman of the main opposition Labour Party said on Wednesday.

"The prime minister's half-baked Brexit deal does not have the backing of her cabinet, her party, parliament or the country," Ian Lavery said in a statement.

"The Conservative Party's internal divisions are putting people's jobs and living standards at risk."

A number of political figures have shown public support for Mrs May since the announcement this morning, including Philip Hammond.

"The Prime Minister has worked hard in the national interest since the day she took office and will have my full support in the vote tonight. Her deal means we leave the EU on time, whilst protecting our jobs and our businesses," he said.

While Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "I am backing Theresa May tonight. Being PM 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."

Graham Brady, the chairman of the party's so-called 1922 committee, said the threshold of 15 percent of the parliamentary Conservative Party seeking a confidence vote had been reached.

"The threshold of 15 percent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party has been exceeded," Brady said.

A ballot will be held between 6pm to 8pm on Wednesday in a room at the British House of Commons and an announcement made as soon as possible afterwards, he said.

"The votes will be counted immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made a soon as possible in the evening," Brady said.

Brexit is Britain's most significant political and economic decision since World War Two though pro-Europeans fear it will divide the West as it grapples with the presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

The ultimate outcome will shape Britain's $2.8 trillion economy, have far reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.

May could be toppled if 158 of her 315 lawmakers vote against her.

Amid the chaos in London, this morning Irish ministers and MEPs have been instructed to cancel all media engagements.

Independent.ie understands a warning has also been widely circulated to Fine Gael TDs and senators, urging them not to comment on developments.

The message states: “No tweets, no doorsteps, no interviews, no comment – stay out of UK political party leadership issues.”

"SHE MUST GO"

Ever since formally triggering the Brexit divorce in March 2017, May has sought to find a way to keep Britain closely aligned with the EU after its exit.

But on Monday, she abruptly pulled a parliamentary vote on her deal in the face of ridicule from lawmakers. She then rushed to Europe in an attempt to get assurances from EU leaders about the deal.

Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her party have accused May of betraying Brexit in negotiations while opponents of Brexit say she has negotiated a deal that is the worst of all worlds - out of the EU but with no say over the rules it has to abide by.

A schism over Europe in the Conservative Party over Britain’s relationship with the EU contributed to the fall of all three previous Conservative premiers - David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her party have accused May of selling out Brexit in negotiations.

"Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward," lawmakers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker said in a statement.

"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."

But some ministers expressed support for her with Home Secretary Sajid Javid saying a leadership contest was the last thing Britain needed.

"The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong," Javid said.

"PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March," he said.

How does a Conservative leadership contest work?

Theresa May faces a leadership challenge from Tory MPs after delaying a Commons vote on her Brexit deal.

Here is how a Conservative leadership contest will unfold:

Why will there be a vote?

A threshold of 48 letters of no confidence - 15pc of Tory MPs - has been reached. Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said the threshold had been exceeded.

What happens in the no confidence vote?

Mrs May will need the support of more than 50pc of the 315 Conservative MPs to stay in office, so 158 in total. But even if she wins, if the margin of victory is small her authority may have been fatally wounded.

When will the vote be held?

The ballot is from 6-8pm on Wednesday evening, and the result is announced shortly afterwards.

What if May loses?

If the PM loses the vote, she would not be able to stand in the subsequent leadership contest arranged by Sir Graham.

How would that work?

Candidates for the leadership must be nominated by two Conservative MPs. If only one candidate comes forward, he or she becomes leader.

If a number of would-be leaders are nominated, the list is whittled down to a shortlist of two in a series of votes by MPs.

The final pair then go to a postal ballot of all party members, with the position of leader - and Prime Minister - going to the victor.

How long would that take?

Sir Graham would be responsible for overseeing the contest and setting a timetable for the campaign, which would be expected to last around 12 weeks - although those calling for Mrs May to go believe it could be accomplished much quicker.

Mrs May could remain in the post during the campaign period.

Who are the contenders to take over as Tory leader?

Bookmakers have Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab as joint favourites, followed by Michael Gove and Sajid Javed. Although Cabinet colleagues like Mr Javed have voiced support for Mrs May, they could become contenders if she loses the no confidence vote.

The 1922 Committee seems to have a key role, what exactly is it?

Widely known in Westminster as "the '22", the committee of all backbench Conservative MPs meets weekly when the House of Commons is sitting.

Where does the unusual name come from?

The committee takes its name from a meeting of Conservative MPs on October 19 1922. The MPs successfully ended the party's coalition with the Liberals, bringing down the government of David Lloyd George. The resulting general election was won by the Tories.

Reuters

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