Wednesday 19 June 2019

Tories pressure May to quit

Foundering party on 9pc in polls wants premier gone before recess

‘Desperate’: UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Bristol yesterday during campaigning for the upcoming EU elections. Photo: Reuters
‘Desperate’: UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Bristol yesterday during campaigning for the upcoming EU elections. Photo: Reuters

Andrew Woodcock

British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing growing clamour from within her own party to quit immediately as prime minister, after the collapse of Brexit talks with Labour sounded the death knell for her EU withdrawal plans.

With Tories trailing in fifth place on a humiliating 9pc in one poll for next week's European parliament elections, furious backbenchers predicted certain defeat when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before the Commons in June.

Brexiteers said there was no prospect of Mrs May averting a "significant" rebellion by tacking towards them on totemic issues like the Irish backstop and free trade. "There's nothing she can say," said one former minister. "No one trusts her any more."

Meanwhile, Labour backers of a second referendum demanded that Jeremy Corbyn announce that all other options have now been exhausted and the party will push for a Final Say.

Mr Corbyn dramatically pulled the plug on cross-party talks after more than six weeks, saying they had "gone as far as they can".

Speaking at her first appearance on the Euro election campaign trail, in Bristol, Mrs May sought to blame Labour splits over a second referendum for the failure to reach a compromise deal.

"We have not been able to overcome the fact that there isn't a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or hold a second referendum," she said.

She vowed to press ahead with tabling the Brexit bill in the week of June 3.

But senior Leave-supporting backbenchers said she should scrap the legislation and hand over immediately to a new leader.

Nigel Evans urged her to announce she was not waiting three weeks to discuss the timetable for her departure, as agreed with the chair of the influential 1922 Committee Graham Brady, but would go "forthwith".

Asked if the declaration should come within days, the committee's joint secretary replied: "I would like her to do it now ... It's only right that the new leadership has the opportunity to become established and form a new cabinet prior to us going into the summer recess."

Former minister David Jones said the PM should recognise that "now is the time that she should stand down".

There were signs that Ms May could face a rebellion on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill considerably greater than the 34 Tories who helped to defeat her third meaningful vote. Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, whose announcement that he would swing behind the PM in the March 29 vote was influential in encouraging other "switchers", is understood to be mulling which way to vote.

Boris Johnson, who declared his intention to stand on Thursday, claimed pole position in the race for the succession with a survey for 'The Times' finding he is the preferred leader of 39pc of party members, against 13pc for Dominic Raab and 9pc for Michael Gove.

As cross-party talks foundered on the issue of Labour's demand for a permanent customs union, it emerged that Mrs May made a last-ditch offer of indicative votes to salvage her Brexit plans.

Under the deal - rejected by Labour - MPs would have been able to vote on ruling out a fresh referendum or a no-deal Brexit as well as setting a new withdrawal deadline of July 31 and approving a package of concessions made by the government.

Labour supporters of a people's vote called on Mr Corbyn to declare that he has reached the end of the road in pursuing the options set out in last autumn's conference motion and will throw the party's weight fully behind a Final Say referendum.

Former cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw said the move could staunch the "haemorrhage" of votes in the elections, with the most polls showing Labour dropping behind Lib Dems.

Irish Independent

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