By theguardian |

Tory Brexiters want May resignation date in order to back deal

Theresa May is under intense pressure to set out a timetable for her departure from Downing Street to seal the support of Brexit hardliners including Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg for her twice-rejected deal.

The prime minister will address Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers on Wednesday as the House of Commons prepares to vote on alternatives to her Brexit deal.

There are renewed signs that leavers are reluctantly preparing to back her in a third meaningful vote rather than risk seeing Brexit slip away altogether.

Tories fight like rats in a sack to hang on to the hard Brexit dream

MPs will hold a series of “indicative votes” on alternative Brexit options on Wednesday after three ministers resigned to back a motion to seize control of the parliamentary timetable from the government. Leavers fear this could lead to what May has a called a “slow Brexit” – a lengthy delay to the article 50 process, leading to a closer future relationship with the European Union.

Options for MPs to consider may include revocation of article 50, a second referendum, leaving with no deal and backing a Norway-style deal which would include single market membership and a customs arrangement.

Johnson appeared to pave the way for a climbdown on Tuesday night. Asked at a Telegraph event whether he would vote for May’s deal, he said: “I am not there yet.”

He described it as a “terrible deal, something which I bitterly opposed for a long time”. However, he said he needed “to see that the second phase of the negotiations will be different from the first” and highlighted the “appreciable risk” that not voting for the deal could lead to no Brexit.

Earlier, Rees-Mogg, the chair of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiter MPs, said the choice was heading towards May’s deal or potentially no Brexit.

Labour considers backing 'common market 2.0' soft Brexit

One backbencher said speculation was rife that May would set a timetable for her departure on Wednesday, but that MPs would not be satisfied without a specific date. “She can’t stand up there and just say the same thing about backing her deal.”


How do Conservative leadership elections work?

A Conservative leadership contest has two stages.

In the first part, MPs vote for their choice of leader from all of the candidates who have been nominated. In each round of voting, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated from the contest. MPs then vote again, until there are only two challengers remaining. This usually takes place over several days.

At that point the second stage is a postal ballot of Conservative party members to chose which of the two candidates they wish to lead the party.

In 2016 the party members did not get to vote, as at the point that the contest had been narrowed to a choice of Andrea Leadsom or Theresa May, Leadsom stood aside, leaving Theresa May to become leader and prime minister unopposed.

Under the existing rules, since she won a vote of no confidence in December 2018, Theresa May's leadership cannot be directly challenged. However, she could trigger a leadership contest by resigning. 

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The prime minister’s spokesman insisted the government’s focus remained on trying to find a majority for May’s deal. “If we are able to hold and win a vote this week, we will be able to leave the EU in two months, which is what the PM firmly believes is the right thing,” the spokesman said.

EU27 leaders agreed on Friday to delay Brexit until 22 May if the prime minister can win support for the withdrawal agreement this week. Otherwise, she will have to return to Brussels before 12 April with an alternative plan.

Asked whether May still hoped to win over her party, the spokesman said she and her colleagues “understand the need to work hard on this in order to build support”. Ministers would continue to hold meetings with MPs from different parties, he added.

Rees-Mogg and Johnson were among those invited to May’s country retreat on Sunday, where aides asked guests in one-to-one chats whether they would back the deal if May resigned.

The Chequers gathering was carefully choreographed, with one source saying: “It didn’t look like a coincidence; aides like this are not meant to think for themselves.”

May made no mention of resigning in the three-hour rolling meeting, although the idea was put to her at one point by Rees-Mogg and, according to some accounts, Iain Duncan Smith. She did not respond.

Downing Street insiders said it was not the case that May’s departure was canvassed as part of a pre-arranged exercise. “There was no such operation that took place in any sense,” a source said.

No 10 also sought to play down the significance of Wednesday’s 1922 Committee meeting, saying it was not surprising for May to want to address her party given she still hoped to win support for a third meaningful vote.


What is the 1922 Committee?

The 1922 Committee is the shorthand name for the parliamentary group of backbench Conservative MPs that meets weekly while parliament is in session.

The group has an executive body of 18 backbench MPs who oversee the organisation of Conservative party leadership elections.

The name derives from it being formed originally by a small group of MPs who were elected for the first time in the 1922 general election, before expanding to become the main representative group of Conservative MPs who are not part of the government itself.

Photograph: Conservative Party/AFP

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However, one Johnson supporter said May would need to publicly pledge to hand over the next stage of the process to a new leader to win over some of the Eurosceptics. Any private promises to leave after Brexit would not be good enough, they said.

May was also under pressure from the remain wing of the party to offer MPs a free vote on the alternative options on Wednesday, including softer forms of Brexit.

Government sources said she had been warned that several junior ministers were prepared to resign rather than vote against options they believed would be much less damaging than a no-deal Brexit, which May’s spokesman stressed on Tuesday remained the “default option” in law.

How will the Brexit indicative votes process work?

However, several cabinet ministers, including the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, insisted at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting that MPs must be whipped against Brexit deals that would breach the promises made in the Tories’ 2017 election manifesto, which included leaving the customs union.

She told MPs: “It is absolutely vital that this house delivers outcomes that are negotiable, feasible and in line with the will of the manifestos and the referendum on which we all stood.”

It is unclear whether Wednesday’s indicative votes, led by the former Tory minister Oliver Letwin, will yield any clear answer to the question of what option MPs prefer.

Groups of MPs have tabled 16 options for consideration. The Speaker, John Bercow, will decide which of these MPs will vote on.

One government source said: “If MPs want to sort this whole thing out in an afternoon, good luck to them”.

Meanwhile, May appeared to be making little progress in securing the backing of the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s parliamentary Brexit spokesman, wrote in a piece for the Telegraph that he would not allow, “the PM or the remainer horde in parliament to bully us into backing a toxic Brexit deal”.

He also said a postponement of Brexit for a year would give the UK a chance to “have a say on the things which affect us”.

However, it was not clear whether he was writing in an official capacity or as an individual MP. One source said Wilson’s comments were “not strictly DUP policy”.



Theresa May Conservatives Article 50 European Union Foreign policy news

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