In a highly-charged speech, she told Tory MPs she would quit ‘earlier than intended’ if Parliament backed her withdrawal agreement.
There were initial signs that her gamble might pay off when a string of Eurosceptic MPs, led by Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, said they would now swing behind her.
But, in a bombshell announcement shortly before 9pm, the DUP said it would not support the agreement because it posed ‘an unacceptable risk to the integrity of the UK’.
The party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds indicated it would vote against the plan, saying: ‘We don’t abstain when it comes to the Union.’
The DUP’s support is seen as critical to unlocking the backing of dozens of Eurosceptic MPs.
Theresa May (pictured returning to Parliament tonight) sensationally promised to quit Downing Street in return for Tory Brexiteer rebels passing her deal tonight as she admitted her time as Prime Minister was almost over
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured yesterday) has urged hardline Eurosceptics to back Theresa May or face losing Brexit
In a huge blow for the Prime Minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster (pictured tonight on Sky News) said her party still could not support the deal because it ‘poses a threat to the integrity of the UK’
A party statement said ‘we will not be supporting the Government if they table a fresh meaningful vote’ – with Westminster leader Nigel Dodds vowing to vote No
Downing Street was last night locked in frantic talks with the party in the hope of persuading its ten MPs to support the deal.
‘They are tough negotiators,’ one source said. ‘It’s not over yet.’
But one Cabinet minister said: ‘If they don’t move, then we don’t have the votes.’
MPs last night rejected every Brexit option in a series of ‘indicative votes’, with a customs union, second referendum, Norway-style option and No Deal all failing to get a majority.
But the two options with the closest votes were for any Brexit deal to put put to the people for a ‘confirmatory vote’ (268 for and 295 against) and to leave the EU with a customs union (264 for and 272 against).
These options are set to be further debated on Monday in the Commons and will be put to another vote if Mrs May fails to convince enough MPs to get her withdrawal agreement passed before then.
Mrs May is hoping the threat of a ‘confirmatory vote’ from the electorate or ‘soft’ Brexit by leaving the EU with a customs union will cajole further hardline Brexiteers to support her deal.
This, and the PM’s ‘Back me, then sack me’ plea, sets the scene for a third attempt to pass her Brexit plan tomorrow – the day Britain was due to leave the EU.
Mrs May becomes the fourth consecutive Tory prime minister to have their career wrecked by the issue of Europe.
Pressure on her to quit had been building in recent weeks, with Eurosceptic MPs unhappy with her deal, warning that they wanted a new leader to take forward the next stage of Brexit negotiations.
A senior Tory said party whips believed up to 30 Eurosceptic MPs would back Mrs May’s deal only if she agreed to go.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling were pictured leaving Parliament last tonight following the PM’s shock announcement
What PM needs to edge to victory… by just 2 votes. There are 235 Tory loyalists, 10 switchers, 30 who with back the deal if May quits, 10 DUP supporters and 24 Labour
In a fresh twist before Mrs May’s announcement, John Bercow yesterday afternoon threatened new Brexit chaos by throwing doubts over Mrs May’s efforts to get her deal through the Commons by Friday
Addressing the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs last night, an emotional Mrs May acknowledged that Brexit turmoil had been ‘a testing time for our country and our party’. She called on MPs to do their ‘historic duty’ and back her plan.
But she acknowledged concerns about her own leadership, saying: ‘I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party.
‘I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.’
Her dramatic move fired the starting gun on what promises to be a bruising Tory leadership contest this summer that will choose the next prime minister.
Speaker says the government MUST change May’s deal to bring a third vote
John Bercow this afternoon threatened new Brexit chaos by throwing doubts over Theresa May’s efforts to get her deal through the Commons by Friday.
The Prime Minister has been considering announcing her resignation date this afternoon to win the support of Brexiteer rebel MPs.
But the Speaker warned the government today that her deal must have changed from the last time she brought it forward for a vote – and she cannot use a procedural device known as a ‘paving motion’ to get around him.
Bercow has already been accused of having Remainer sympathies and trying to thwart Britain leaving the EU.
May’s government insists that a new Brexit date agreed with the EU and clarifications to the backstop announced at a summit in Brussels amount to a ‘significant change’.
The Speaker alone will decide if the change is sufficient and is expected to announce the night before if he will block a third vote.
A week ago MPs accused John Bercow of turning Brexit into ‘Parliament versus the people’ after he ruled she could not bring her deal back to the Commons unchanged.
Mrs May would have been hopeful that the Speaker is willing to make an exception and if the vote gets the green light, it’s down to the numbers.
Now it is clear that he won’t budge – and her best hope will be including the new Brexit dates agreed by the EU last week to make it ‘substantially different’.
Tory sources said that if Mrs May’s plan passes, a leadership contest will start shortly after May 22, when the UK finally leaves the EU.
However, No 10 refused to say whether she would still depart on the same timetable if her plan is blocked or defeated.
One source said it would be ‘a different scenario’, adding: ‘It’s hard to see how we could have time for a leadership contest in quite the same way if we’re still in the middle of trying to take us out.’
On the most extraordinary night so far in the Brexit crisis:
- Boris Johnson, who urged the PM on Monday to ‘drop the deal’ switched to backing it, with friends saying he believed it would be ‘churlish’ to keep opposing it;
- Commons Speaker John Bercow warned he could block a third vote on Mrs May’s plan, prompting senior Tories to consider drastic measures to ensure it can get through, including asking the Queen to cut short the session of parliament;
- Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly warned that a general election was more likely – but said it would not break the impasse;
- Iain Duncan Smith, who helped broker Mrs May’s departure, said he would now support the deal;
- Labour frontbencher Melanie Onn resigned after Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to vote for a second referendum;
- Parliament voted by a majority of 336 to delay Brexit until at least April 12, despite the opposition of 105 MPs;
- Hardline Brexiteers, dubbed ‘the Spartans’, warned they could still block the deal, with former Brexit minister Steve Baker saying he would rather ‘bulldoze Parliament into the river’ than vote for it;
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, who wrote in the Mail yesterday that he would back Mrs May, said he could no longer do so because he wanted to stand by the DUP.
Jubilant anti-Brexit MPs started singing the EU anthem Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Ode to Joy, in the Commons chamber last night as Mrs May’s hopes of getting her deal through faded.
Remainer ex-Tory MP Anna Soubry, a member of the breakaway TIG independent group, conducted a mock choir of MPs. Then she tried to get fellow pro-Europeans to join her in a Mexican wave; several other TIG, Scots Nat and Labour MPs joined in.
The riotous scenes came during the wait for the result of the votes on the alternative Brexit options shortly after 9pm.
The antics appeared to have been triggered when news of the DUP’s latest rejection of Mrs May’s plan reached MPs, dramatically reducing her hopes of getting the withdrawal agreement through.
It was followed by a row as Tory loyalists tried to stop the ‘soft Brexit’ motions that won most votes in the Commons last night being voted on again on Monday.
Former Tory chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin accused Mr Bercow of double standards by allowing a second vote when he had ruled against a third vote on Mrs May’s deal earlier yesterday.
The Speaker rejected his demand. Allies of the PM said she had reluctantly made the decision to quit over the past fortnight, following conversations with close political friends and her husband Philip.
‘I know there is a desire for new leadership’: May’s promise to QUIT if MPs vote for the deal
‘This has been a testing time for our country and our party. We’re nearly there. We’re almost ready to start a new chapter and build that brighter future.
‘But before we can do that, we have to finish the job in hand. As I say, I don’t tour the bars and engage in the gossip – but I do make time to speak to colleagues, and I have a great team in the Whips’ Office. I also have two excellent PPSs.
‘And I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.
‘I know some people are worried that if you vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t – I hear what you are saying.
‘But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit.
She addded: ‘I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.
‘I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit.’
Mr May stood by her side as she made a ‘moving’ speech to tearful staff in No 10 after making her announcement to MPs last night. Allies said the decision reflected her determination to push through a plan she believes is ‘firmly in the national interest’.
One said: ‘She had other options but she has put her country first. It is typically selfless.’
Justice Secretary David Gauke described her address to MPs as a ‘very touching, moving speech’.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said: ‘There was a sadness in the room when she said she was going to go and a feeling that she has done what she promised. She has fulfilled her commitment to putting the country first.’
Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘There was a great deal of sympathy for the Prime Minister in the room and a recognition that she is both brave and dutiful and that there was a nobility in her statement that she was putting the interests as she sees them of the country and the party first and sacrificing herself.’
Her former policy adviser George Freeman said that the PM had ‘tears not far from her eyes’ as she admitted: ‘I have made many mistakes. I am only human. I beg you, colleagues, vote for the withdrawal agreement and I will go.’
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: ‘She is doing what she thinks is in the national interest.
‘I have utmost respect for her. She has an incredible sense of duty. She sees her duty to deliver Brexit and she put that ahead of her own personal interest. It’s another day in which she has put the national interest before her personal interest.’
But Labour MP Wes Streeting said the prospect of Mrs May being replaced by a Brexiteer prime minister would make it even harder to secure Labour support.
Mr Streeting said: ‘Any commitments or guarantees made by Theresa May to the House of Commons are meaningless. A hard Brexiteer will be leading the country to a harder Brexit.’
May fires the starting gun on new Tory leadership race: Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are favourites to take over as Prime Minister this summer
by Jack Doyle
More than a dozen Tory MPs are poised to launch bids for the leadership after Theresa May announced she will quit if her Brexit deal is voted through.
As many as eight Cabinet ministers are expected to put their names forward, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid among the frontrunners.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is seen as a strong outside bet, along with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd is weighing up whether to run.
Among the Cabinet outsiders are Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom, who finished second in the 2016 leadership contest that Mrs May won, but is expected to have another tilt, along with Brexiteer International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.
Outside the Cabinet, the leading contenders are former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, both of whom quit Government posts over Mrs May’s Brexit plans and will be vying for votes among Eurosceptic MPs.
Other MPs attempting to garner support for a run include former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, Tory party vice-chairman James Cleverly, foreign affairs select committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, justice minister Rory Stewart and backbench MP Johnny Mercer.
Last night one MP said: ‘It’s going to be like Ben Hur – there’ll be a cast of thousands.’
Nigel Evans, joint-secretary of the backbench 1922 Committee, said: ‘There’s going to be more runners and riders than the Grand National.’
Last night, bookmakers Ladbrokes installed Mr Gove and Mr Johnson as early joint favourites at 4/1 and Mr Hunt at 8/1, with Mr Raab and Mr Javid at 10/1. Not all the likely runners are serious about winning the top job, but hope to secure a better job in Cabinet by increasing their profile.
Several of the leading candidates have had ‘shadow’ campaign operations running for months in anticipation of Mrs May going, with supporters discreetly sounding out MPs.
The first phase of the contest will see all Tory MPs vote in a series of rounds to whittle down the candidates to the final two. Party members across the country then vote in a postal ballot to decide the winner.
Last night, No 10 officials said that if Mrs May’s deal goes through in the coming days and the UK leaves the EU on May 22, she will resign as Tory leader but stay on as caretaker until the contest is finished. She would go to Japan for the G20 at the end of June, meaning the contest would last about six weeks.
Mr Hunt has long been seen as a frontrunner because of his seniority and experience, but could suffer from the ‘favourite’ tag. His opponents have labelled him ‘Continuity May’.
Mr Javid’s hopes have taken a series of blows in recent months over his handling of the case of teenager Shamima Begum who ran off from her home in east London to join Isis, and for his claim to be taking control of a migration crisis while on holiday in South Africa.
Allies of Mr Johnson believe if he gets to the final round he is likely to win because of his huge popularity among grassroots Tories. There is also speculation about Mr Johnson and Miss Rudd forming a powerful joint ticket, which would bring together a leading Brexiteer and a leading Remainer and could help reunite the party.
Mr Gove’s prospects have sky-rocketed in recent weeks after several barnstorming performances at the despatch box, including his closing speech in the no confidence debate in January when he savaged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.