Theresa May vows to contest Tory no confidence vote tonight

Theresa May vowed to fight with ‘everything I’ve got’ today after a Tory no-confidence vote was dramatically triggered – and will be held within hours. 

The PM said she would not give up after Eurosceptics secured the 48 letters from MPs needed to force a ballot that could end her time as leader.

In a defiant speech on the steps of Downing Street, she warned Brexit would need to be delayed beyond March 29 if she loses and Jeremy Corbyn might end up in power. 

‘I have devoted myself unsparingly since I became Prime Minister… and I stand ready to finish the job,’ she said.

‘A change of leadership in the Conservative party now will put our country’s future at risk, and create uncertainty when we can least afford it.

‘The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate a new 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.’ 

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 committee, emerged this morning to announce the threshold of 48 letters had been ‘exceeded’ and Mrs May was eager to resolve the issue ‘rapidly’.

He said the PM’s reaction when he notified her last night had been ‘business like’ and she will deliver a make-or-break speech to MPs at 5pm before the ballot opens an hour later. The crucial result will be declared as soon as counting of the 315 votes finishes. 

Cabinet ministers immediately rallied to try and shore up Mrs May, with Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, Penny Mordaunt and Brandon Lewis among those making clear they will be support her.

But as the Tories plunged into outright civil war, veteran MP Sir Bernard Jenkin declared that he will be voting to get Mrs May out. 

Senior backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg said the premier’s Brexit plan would ‘bring down the government if carried forward’ and the party ‘will 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,’ he said.  

Mrs May – who has cancelled a planned visit to Ireland and a Cabinet meeting this afternoon – can stay on if she wins the confidence ballot by just one vote, and would theoretically be immune from challenge for another 12 months.

But in reality anything short of a handsome victory will make it almost impossible for her to cling on, with rebels saying she must go if she is opposed by more than 80 MPs. 

Allies believe she would have romped home if a contest had been staged last month – but her position has weakened significantly since then. 

Theresa May vowed defiance today in a statement in Downing Street despite facing a potentially terminal no-confidence vote by Tory MPs

Theresa May vowed defiance today in a statement in Downing Street despite facing a potentially terminal no-confidence vote by Tory MPs

Theresa May vowed defiance today in a statement in Downing Street despite facing a potentially terminal no-confidence vote by Tory MPs

Sir Graham Brady fired the starting gun on the confidence vote with his announcement this morning

Sir Graham Brady fired the starting gun on the confidence vote with his announcement this morning

Conservative 1922 committee chair Graham Brady

Conservative 1922 committee chair Graham Brady

Conservative 1922 committee chair Graham Brady (right) fired the starting gun on the confidence vote with his announcement this morning (left)

Rebels were jubilant that they had finally secured the numbers last night after Cabinet minister Owen Paterson joined efforts to oust Mrs May in the wake of her humiliating decision to drop a Commons vote on her Brexit deal. 

One senior Brexiteer told MailOnline Mr Paterson lining up with the rebels was a ‘big moment’ after the mutiny embarrassingly failed to gain traction before. 

‘We have had some false starts, but this looks like the green light,’ they said.

Previously veteran Eurosceptics have appeared unwilling to sign up to an all-out revolt, despite deep unhappiness with Mrs May’s Brexit plans.   

The development risks throwing the government into turmoil just as Mrs May is scrambling to wring more concessions out of the EU.

She spent yesterday jetting between capitals, holding talks with Dutch PM Mark Rutte in The Hague, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.  

How can Theresa May be ousted as Tory leader?

A Tory leadership contest can be called in one of two ways – if the leader resigns or if MPs force and win a vote of no confidence in them.

It is not the same as a vote of confidence in the government – which happens on the floor of the Commons and involves all MPs. 

Calling votes of no confidence is the responsibility of the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which includes all backbench Conservative MPs.

Chairman Graham Brady is obliged to call a vote if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to him calling for one – currently 48 MPs. 

The process is secret and only Sir Graham knows how many letters he has received.

Once triggered, the ballot can be organised very quickly.

The no-confidence vote is purely on whether the leader should stay in place or not, rather than a contest.

Crucially, if the incumbent receives more votes in support than opposed they cannot be challenged for 12 months.

The procedure was last used in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith was removed as Tory leader.

If the leader is ousted, they typically remain as Prime Minister until a successor is appointed and ready to be confirmed by the Queen.

Any MP – apart from the ousted leader – is eligible to stand in the subsequent contest.

Conservative MPs hold a series of ballots to whittle the list of contenders down to two, with the lowest placed candidate dropping out in each round.

The final two candidates are then offered to the Tory membership at large for an election. 

Some activists have called for changes so it is easier for contenders to reach the final stage.

They have suggested that the membership should get to choose between any candidates who get support from at least 20 other MPs.

Mrs May said she was cancelling her plan to travel to Ireland for talks with Leo Varadkar after PMQs this afternoon, and then go straight on to a crucial EU summit in the Belgian capital on Thursday and Friday.

She said: ‘A leadership election would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation or the parliamentary arithmetic.

‘Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just when we should be standing together to serve our country. None of that would be in the national interest.

‘The only people whose interests would be serves are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.’ 

Justice Secretary David Gauke said it was ‘vital’ Mrs May wins and warned Brexit will have to be postponed if she loses. ‘Clearly there would have to be a delay,’ he said.

Mr Gauke insisted the reputational damage for the Tories from sending the country into ‘chaos’ would be catastrophic. ‘People would struggle to forgive us if that happens,’ he said.

There were signs Mrs May was already bracing for a no confidence vote last night after she returned to Downing Street, with chief whip Julian Smith seen going into No10.

And confirming the news today, Sir Graham said: ‘In accordance with the rules, a ballot will be held between 1800 and 2000 on Wednesday December 12.

‘The votes will be counted immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible in the evening.’

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘She was very concerned that the matter should be resolved as rapidly as possible.’ 

Environment Secretary Mr Gove, who has been touted as a possible leadership contender, tweeted: ‘I am backing the Prime Minister 100 per cent – and I urge every Conservative MP to do the same. 

‘She is battling hard for our country and no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU.’ 

Aid Secretary Ms Mordaunt, who is known to harbour deep concern about Mrs May’s Brexit deal, also backed her to stay as leader.

‘The Prime Minister has my full support, not least because she has always done what she firmly believes is in the national interest. Our country needs us all to fight for a good deal and prepare for a no deal senario. All eyes and hands should be on that task,’ she tweeted. 

Another prominent Brexiteer Chris Grayling said: ‘I will be backing Theresa May tonight. At this crucial point, the last thing the country needs is a prolonged and introspective leadership contest.

‘I was one of the first Cabinet ministers to back Brexit. Delivering a deal was never going to be simple.

‘Theresa May is the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU and deliver on the Brexit that I and the people of our great country voted for.’

One MP said pressing ahead with the trips would have worrying echoes of Margaret Thatcher leaving the UK as she faced a leadership challenge in 1990. 

In his letter to Sir Graham, published in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Paterson said the Prime Minister had failed to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, tried to bounce her ministers into supporting her and approached negotiations like a ‘feeble and unworthy’ supplicant.

‘These mistakes have eroded trust in the Government, to the point where I and many others can no longer take the Prime Minister at her word,’ he wrote.

‘She has repeatedly said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but it is clear her objective was to secure a deal at any cost.

‘The conclusion is now inescapable that the Prime Minister is the blockage to the wide-ranging free trade agreement offered by (European Council president Donald) Tusk which would be in the best interests of the country and command the support of Parliament.’ 

Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk were meeting in Brussels today as the UK political scene descended into fresh turmoil 

Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk were meeting in Brussels today as the UK political scene descended into fresh turmoil 

Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk were meeting in Brussels today as the UK political scene descended into fresh turmoil 

ory former minister Tim Loughton

ory former minister Tim Loughton

Trade Secretary Liam Fox was supportive

Trade Secretary Liam Fox was supportive

Tory former minister Tim Loughton (left) jibed at Mrs May’s embarrassing moment when she got stuck in her car in Berlin yesterday. Trade Secretary Liam Fox (right) was more supportive 

The intervention came hours after a former minister warned Brexit is ‘certain to fail’ while she remains party leader.

Steve Baker urged colleagues to be ‘brave’ and send letters to the powerful Conservative 1922 committee that would start the process of evicting the PM. 

He also insisted Mrs May should consider her own position after being forced to postpone a crunch Commons Brexit vote to avoid humiliating defeat.

There was said to have been a surge in numbers during the day, with Mr Paterson’s decision apparently swaying wavering MPs.  

The Conservative process is separate from a no-confidence vote in Parliament, where MPs of all political stripes take part. 

George Freeman, a former Downing Street policy chief, desperately urged MPs yesterday not to send letters to Sir Graham, warning of the damage to party and country.

The former Tory minister pleaded: ‘To any colleagues thinking of signing their letter to Mr Brady to trigger a leadership election, I beg you not to. The country would never forgive us.’

A leadership contest will throw Brexit as well as the Tories into turmoil. Mrs May decided earlier this week not to put her deal to a vote, accepting it would be heavily defeated.

She announced she would try to secure fresh concessions on the Irish border backstop, and would hold a fresh parliamentary vote by January 21. A challenge would throw that calendar into chaos.

Rivals have been brazenly jostling for position to succeed her in the Tory top job. 

Mr Javid fuelled speculation he could seek to replace Mrs May by giving an extraordinary interview last night setting out his vision for the country. 

Boris Johnson also thrust himself into the spotlight by talking about his weight loss.

A Tory former minister said: ‘Things have really shifted in the past week and I think she would lose that vote now.

‘I and others have been holding back from writing letters because of fears she would win a confidence vote, but the mood is shifting among MPs and our members.’

However, Mrs May’s critics remain divided on who should replace her if they succeed, with Dominic Raab and Esther McVey also often cited as candidates by Brexiteers.  

Mr Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group (ERG) bloc of Tory Eurosceptics, have been urging MPs to replace Mrs May for weeks.

But despite a big push last month they embarrassingly failed to achieve the required level of support for a challenge.  

Who could replace Theresa May? As Brexiteers move against the Prime Minister because of her deal ‘betrayal’ these are some of the leading contenders to take over

Theresa May faces a vote of no confidence this evening after her Brexit deal was rejected by Eurosceptics.

If she loses, the Tory Party will launch a leadership contest to replace her – a process that will likely take weeks, with just months until Brexit Day. These are some of the leading contenders to replace her:

Dominic Raab – 9/2

How did they vote on Brexit?

Leave, with a second tier role campaigning for Vote Leave.

What is their view now?

Mr Raab was installed as Brexit Secretary to deliver the Chequers plan but sensationally resigned last month saying the deal was not good enough.

What are their chances?

His resignation from the Cabinet put rocket boosters under Mr Raab’s chances, fuelling his popularity among the hardline Brexiteers. May struggle to overcome bigger beasts and better known figures. 

Newly installed as Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab (pictured on Tuesday) is trying to negotiate Theresa May's Brexit deal

Newly installed as Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab (pictured on Tuesday) is trying to negotiate Theresa May's Brexit deal

Newly installed as Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab (pictured on Tuesday) is trying to negotiate Theresa May’s Brexit deal

Boris Johnson – 6/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Led the Vote Leave campaign alongside Michael Gove.

What is their view now?

Hard line Brexiteer demanding a clean break from Brussels. The former foreign secretary is violently opposed to Theresa May’s Chequers plan and a leading voice demanding a Canada-style trade deal.

What are their chances?

Mr Johnson’s biggest challenge could be navigating the Tory leadership rules. 

He may be confident of winning a run-off among Tory members but must first be selected as one of the top two candidates by Conservative MPs. 

Rated as second favourite by the bookies, Boris Johnson's (pictured at Tory conference last month) biggest challenge will be navigating the Tory leadership rules

Rated as second favourite by the bookies, Boris Johnson's (pictured at Tory conference last month) biggest challenge will be navigating the Tory leadership rules

Rated as second favourite by the bookies, Boris Johnson’s (pictured at Tory conference last month) biggest challenge will be navigating the Tory leadership rules

Sajid Javid – 5/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Remain but kept a low profile in the referendum.

What is their view now?

Pro delivering Brexit and sceptical of the soft Brexit options.

What are their chances?

Probably the leading candidate from inside the Cabinet after his dramatic promotion to Home Secretary. Mr Javid has set himself apart from Mrs May on a series of policies, notably immigration.

Sajid Javid (pictured in Downing Street) is probably the leading candidate from inside the Cabinet after his dramatic promotion to Home Secretary

Sajid Javid (pictured in Downing Street) is probably the leading candidate from inside the Cabinet after his dramatic promotion to Home Secretary

Sajid Javid (pictured in Downing Street) is probably the leading candidate from inside the Cabinet after his dramatic promotion to Home Secretary

Michael Gove – 6/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Leave 

What is their view now? 

He has said Theresa May’s Chequers blueprint for Brexit is the ‘right one for now’. But he recently suggested a future prime minister could alter the UK-EU relationship if they desired.

What are their chances? 

He came third in the first round of voting in 2016, trailing behind ultimate winner Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. Mr Gove has said it is ‘extremely unlikely’ that he would stand again. But he popular in the party and is seen as an ideas man and a reformer by many, and he could change his mind if Theresa May is shown the door.

Michael Gove appeared to rule himself out of the race in recent days, but he ran last time and is popular among many in the party

Michael Gove appeared to rule himself out of the race in recent days, but he ran last time and is popular among many in the party

Michael Gove appeared to rule himself out of the race in recent days, but he ran last time and is popular among many in the party

Jeremy Hunt – 7/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Remain.

What is their view now?

The Foreign Secretary claims the EU Commission’s ‘arrogance’ has made him a Brexiteer.

What are their chances?

Another top contender inside Cabinet, Mr Hunt’s stock rose during his record-breaking stint at the Department of Health and won a major promotion to the Foreign Office after Mr Johnson’s resignation. Widely seen as a safe pair of hands which could be an advantage if the contest comes suddenly. 

Jeremy Hunt's stock rose during his record-breaking stint at the Department of Health and won a major promotion to the Foreign Office after Mr Johnson's resignation

Jeremy Hunt's stock rose during his record-breaking stint at the Department of Health and won a major promotion to the Foreign Office after Mr Johnson's resignation

Jeremy Hunt’s stock rose during his record-breaking stint at the Department of Health and won a major promotion to the Foreign Office after Mr Johnson’s resignation

David Davis – 9/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Leave.

What is their view now?

Leave and a supporter of scrapping Mrs May’s plan and pursuing a Canada-style trade deal with the EU.

What are their chances?

The favoured choice of many hard Brexiteers. Seen as a safer pair of hands than Mr Johnson and across the detail of the current negotiation after two years as Brexit Secretary. He could be promoted a caretaker to see through Brexit before standing down.

Unlikely to be the choice of Remain supporters inside the Tory Party – and has been rejected by the Tory membership before, in the 2005 race against David Cameron. 

David Davis (pictured last month at a Brexiteer policy launch) is seen as a safer pair of hands than Mr Johnson and across the detail of the current negotiation after two years as Brexit Secretary

David Davis (pictured last month at a Brexiteer policy launch) is seen as a safer pair of hands than Mr Johnson and across the detail of the current negotiation after two years as Brexit Secretary

David Davis (pictured last month at a Brexiteer policy launch) is seen as a safer pair of hands than Mr Johnson and across the detail of the current negotiation after two years as Brexit Secretary

Amber Rudd -16/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Remain. Represented Britain Stronger in Europe in the TV debates.

What is their view now?

Strongly remain and supportive of a second referendum – particularly given a choice between that and no deal.

What are their chances?

Popular among Conservative MPs as the voice of Cameron-style Toryism, Ms Rudd is still seen as a contender despite resigning amid the Windrush scandal – and she was boosted further by her return to Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary on Friday night. She is badly hampered by having a tiny majority in her Hastings constituency and would not be able to unite the Tory party in a sudden contest over the Brexit negotiation. 

Popular among Conservative MPs as the voice of Cameron-style Toryism, Amber Rudd (pictured at Tory conference last month) is still seen as a contender despite resigning amid the Windrush scandal

Popular among Conservative MPs as the voice of Cameron-style Toryism, Amber Rudd (pictured at Tory conference last month) is still seen as a contender despite resigning amid the Windrush scandal

Popular among Conservative MPs as the voice of Cameron-style Toryism, Amber Rudd (pictured at Tory conference last month) is still seen as a contender despite resigning amid the Windrush scandal

Penny Mordaunt – 16/1

How did they vote on Brexit?

Leave

What is their view now?

Leave and subject of persistent rumour she could be the next to quit Cabinet over Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

What are their chances?

Possible dark horse in the contest, Ms Mordaunt is not well known to the public but is seen as a contender in Westminster. Known to harbour deep concerns about Mrs May’s Brexit deal, but has stopped short of resigning from Cabinet. 

Possible dark horse in the contest, Penny Mordaunt (pictured in Downing Street) is not well known to the public but is seen as a contender in Westminster

Possible dark horse in the contest, Penny Mordaunt (pictured in Downing Street) is not well known to the public but is seen as a contender in Westminster

Possible dark horse in the contest, Penny Mordaunt (pictured in Downing Street) is not well known to the public but is seen as a contender in Westminster

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