Zac Goldsmith, pictured in central London last week, has become the 24th Tory MP to go public with a letter of no confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May
Zac Goldsmith last night became the 24th Tory MP to go public with a no-confidence letter in Theresa May, in a boost to the faltering campaign to topple her as party leader.
The former London mayoral candidate said the PM would ‘not change course’ on her divisive Brexit deal, saying he had submitted a letter to demand a confidence vote.
Perennial Eurosceptic MP Bill Cash is also rumoured to be submitting a letter, potentially bringing the Tory rebels to within 10 letters of a dramatic party ballot.
The plotters, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, need 48 letters to trigger a vote and had confidently predicted they would reach the required number by the end of the week, but their momentum has since stalled.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Goldsmith, 43, said he had submitted a letter with ‘huge reluctance’ in the hope of a ‘fresh start’ for the party, saying there was ‘no time to lose’.
He said: ‘The notion that the choice is between this deal, no deal or no Brexit is a false one. That is what the EU wants us to believe.
‘There is time to do a deal that will suit both sides better than no deal and to bring forward the option that Brussels has long been expecting. That would be a SuperCanada style free trade agreement. But there is no time to lose.
‘The Prime Minister has been clear that she will not change course, and so with huge reluctance, I have submitted a letter to the 1922 Committee urging a vote that will, I hope, give us the chance of a fresh start.’
Mr Goldsmith backed Leave in the 2016 referendum but said tonight he would have voted Remain rather than support the PM’s deal.
He was defeated by Sadiq Khan for the London mayor’s office in 2016 following a bitter campaign in which he was accused of ‘dog-whistle’ tactics towards the Labour candidate.
Later that year he lost his Richmond Park seat at a by-election, in a personal humiliation after resigning over the expansion of Heathrow Airport. But Mr Goldsmith, who inherited a portion of his father’s huge wealth, recovered the seat by a margin of 45 votes at last year’s general election.
Tory critics of the Prime Minister need to hand 48 letters to the 1922 committee – 15 per cent of the party – to trigger the motion to remove Mrs May.
But sources suggested on Saturday that the plotters were still stuck at 37, according to The Sun, of whom 23 had gone public before Mr Goldsmith’s intervention.
Tory MP Grant Shapps could be next, after he posted on Twitter this morning that he had lost faith in the PM’s Brexit plan after reading the 585-page withdrawal agreement.
Even if Mrs May can hold her Cabinet together she faces a battle to steer the deal through Parliament when the House of Commons votes on the terms.
Theresa May (pictured in her Downing Street office yesterday) is mounting a fight back after she was hit with a slew of cabinet resignations over her draft agreement to leave the EU and an increasingly likely no confidence vote
The divisive agreement could be voted down by MPs next month, which could force a no-deal Brexit or a general election, but the PM has vowed to fight on saying the plotters’ plans would not solve the Irish border issue.
Party whips have been ordered to stay in Westminster for the weekend as they battle to keep wavering MPs on side and stop them submitting their no confidence letters to the 1922 committee.
Mrs May is fighting on after appointing loyalist Amber Rudd back to the cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary and relatively unknown Steve Barclay – who has never voted against the government – as the new Brexit Secretary.
Earlier Andrea Leadsom told Mrs May there is ‘more to be done’ to her EU withdrawal deal as the Brexiteer ‘Gang of Five’ in the Cabinet turned up the pressure on the PM.
Mrs Leadsom and her allies Michael Gove, Penny Mourdaunt, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling have reportedly been holding ‘pizza nights’ at her home as they push to rewrite the deal.
The five Brexiteers stayed on amid a series of resignations but are said to want changes to the Irish backstop, fearing that the current terms could keep Britain in the customs union indefinitely.
Speaking in her South Northamptonshire constituency, Mrs Leadsom said: ‘I’m absolutely determined to support the Prime Minister in getting the best possible deal for the UK as we leave the EU.
‘There is still more to be done and we do still have more time before the EU Council at the end of the month.’
She said: ‘What I’m doing is working very hard to support the prime minister in getting the Brexit deal that 17.4million people voted for.
‘I think there’s still the potential to improve on the clarification and on some of the measures within it and that’s what I’m hoping to be able to help with.’
She denied she was a ‘plotter’ but said the UK could not be ‘trapped in a permanent customs arrangement’ and calling for ‘improvement’ on that part of the deal.
The five will reportedly demand a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop arrangement, fearing it could keep Britain tied to EU rules indefinitely.
In an ultimatum to Mrs May the five ministers will renew their threats to resign if she does not go back to the negotiating table, the Telegraph reported.
Perennial Eurosceptic Bill Cash (left) is also rumoured to have submitted a letter after Zac Goldsmith (right) said he was moving to trigger a confidence vote, becoming the 24th Conservative MP to go public with a bid to oust the PM
Brexiteer Michael Gove (pictured on a jog this morning) is understood to have only agreed to stay in the cabinet if he can influence and change May’s draft Brexit agreement
Gove is one of the so-called gang of five Brexiteers sticking with the Prime Minister which also includes Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mourdant, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling
Who has sent letters of no confidence in May?
Letters of no confidence in Theresa May are confidential – but some of her strongest critics have gone public.
If 48 letters are sent a vote is called.
This is who has definitely sent a letter:
- Jacob Rees-Mogg
- Steve Baker
- Sheryll Murray
- Anne-Marie Morris
- Lee Rowley
- Henry Smith
- Simon Clarke
- Peter Bone
- James Duddridge
- Philip Davies
- Andrea Jenkyns
- Andrew Bridgen
- Nadine Dorries
- Laurence Robertson
- Martin Vickers
- Ben Bradley
- Adam Holloway
- John Whittingdale
- Maria Caulfield
- Mark Francois
- David Jones
- Marcus Fysh
- Chris Green
- Zac Goldsmith
Mr Gove said he had ‘absolute’ confidence in the Prime Minister while Dr Fox, the International Trade Secretary, said it was ‘in the national interest’ to back her.
Last night Dominic Raab hit out at Mrs May days after resigning from her Cabinet, saying she failed to stand up to a bullying EU over the deal.
Mr Raab, 44, said British negotiators should be prepared to ‘walk away’, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on March 29, the Sunday Times reported.
He said: ‘If we cannot close this deal on reasonable terms we need to be very honest with the country that we will not be bribed and blackmailed or bullied and we will walk away.
‘I think there is one thing that is missing and that is political will and resolve. I am not sure that message has ever landed.’
Opinion polls suggested the Conservatives have lost ground to Labour in the polls after a chaotic week at Westminster.
In one poll the Conservatives lost 10 points among Leave voters, reflecting deep divisions among Brexiteers about the PM’s withdrawal agreement.
A ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express saw the Tories leak three points, falling from 39 per cent to 36 per cent since September.
Labour remained on 40 per cent, increasing their lead from one percentage point to four.
Meanwhile an Opinium poll saw Mrs May’s divided party drop five points from 41 per cent to 36 per cent, with Labour overtaking them from 37 per cent to 39 per cent compared to October.
Mrs May responded to the crisis by bringing former Home Secretary Amber Rudd back into Cabinet to replace Miss McVey at the DWP.
Mrs May told the Mail that husband Philip struggles seeing her Brexiteer critics slamming her on TV. She said he immediately poured her a glass of whisky when she came home exhausted at 11pm on Wednesday
Ms Rudd, once seen as a ‘human shield’ for the PM, told the Tory plotters they should ‘think again’, saying it was ‘not the time’ to change the party leader.
She said: ‘I worry sometimes that my colleagues are too concerned about the Westminster bubble rather than keeping their eye on what our job is, to serve people.’
She resigned as Home Secretary during the Windrush scandal but a later inquiry blamed civil servants for the error which led to her departure.
The little-known Stephen Barclay was appointed the new Brexit Secretary but the role has been slimmed down after Mr Raab and David Davis quit within months.
Downing Street will now take care of negotiations with Brussels itself, while the new minister oversees domestic preparations, including for a no-deal exit.
At the end of a bruising week for the Prime Minister, she used an interview with the Daily Mail to tell her critics their alternative plans for Brexit would not solve the main problem – the North Ireland/Ireland border backstop arrangement.
She said: ‘People say ‘if you could only just do something slightly different, have a Norway model or a Canada model, this backstop issue would go away’. It would not. That issue is still going to be there.
‘Some politicians get so embroiled in the intricacies of their argument they forget it is not about this theory or that theory, or does it make me look good.’
The 23 other Conservatives who have submitted letters. Top row: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Marcus Fysh, Lee Rowley, Peter Bone, Simon Clark, Andrew Bridgen, Nadine Dorries, Henry Smith; Middle row: Chris Green, Andrea Jenkyns, Adam Holloway, Laurence Robertson, Sheryll Murray, John Whittingdale, Maria Caulfield; Bottom row: Steve Baker, Anne Marie Morris, James Duddridge, Martin Vickers, David Jones, Mark Francois, Philip Davies and Ben Bradley
Steve Baker (pictured in Westminster yesterday) insisted he remained confident that 48 letters would be sent to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, and trigger a Tory party no confidence vote in Theresa May next week
Grant Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, Hertfordshire, implied he’d lost faith in the PM’s Brexit plan. He could bring the figure to 38 if he hands in his no confidence vote
Mrs May will continue her attempts to sell the deal to sceptical MPs and the public with a live interview on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday.
Meanwhile Brexiteers were warned their efforts could drive Remain-voting Tories to attempt to stop Brexit entirely.
Tory MP Alistair Burt, attacked a tweet by Steve Baker, one of the ringleaders of the hardline European Research Group, in which he promoted a legal case against the Brexit deal.
Mr Burt wrote: ‘Be very clear. If an agreed deal on leaving between the Govt and the EU is voted down by purist Brexiteers, do not be surprised if consensus on accepting the result of the Referendum by Remain voting MPs breaks down. Parliament will not support no deal.’
Scottish Secretary David Mundell also pledged his support for Theresa May amid what he called an ‘unprecedented onslaught’ by her critics.
Mr Mundell said he has reservations about the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit deal but other alternatives were ‘even more unpalatable’.
It came after a tumultuous week in Westminster which saw the departures of Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey in the wake of a five-hour Cabinet meeting to agree the deal.
At the stormy ministerial marathon Miss McVey was said to have demanded a formal vote on the deal but was rebuked by the PM.
Steve Baker, a top member of the Eurosceptic ERG block of Tory MPs, has insisted he remained confident that 48 letters would be sent to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, by next week.
Mr Francois blamed the Prime Minister for alienating the DUP and threatening to destroy the Government
He said he had been told by at least 48 MPs – and ‘probably a dozen more’ – they would prepared to demand a vote, but admitted only Sir Graham knew for sure because letters are normally confidential.
Mr Baker acknowledged he had sent a WhatsApp message to colleagues earlier saying that his count was over 48, with around a dozen probables, but admitted the number was probably inaccurate.
Jacob Rees-Mogg launched the coup on Thursday, saying: ‘People always call for unity when the policy they are following is wrong. It is a standard pattern of Conservatives when they note that failure is in the air.’
He said that Dominic Raab should not be blamed for the deal negotiated with Brussels, as it was clear that the process was driven by Downing Street.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘The key is, if 48 letters go in it shows there are 48 people who will not vote for this deal. ‘That in itself is a pretty powerful statement.’
Asked what his message to the Prime Minister was, he said: ‘The Prime Minister said at the 1922 Committee after the election that she would serve as long as the Conservative Party wanted her to serve.
‘I think there are many people in the Conservative Party, not just in Parliament but in the country at large, who feel that her service now should come to an end.
‘She is a very dutiful person, she has served the country to the best of her ability but she has let us down in this deal. It has not delivered on what she said she would do.
‘That is the key thing – it is trust that is at the heart of it. She didn’t do what she said she would.’
Tory MP Adam Holloway was one of the latest MPs to go public with his letter of no confidence, posting on Facebook (pictured) the country needs new leadership
Mr Francois’s letter – hugely longer than most of the letters – accused pro-European civil servants of sabotaging the negotiation
May is fighting on after appointing Amber Rudd – who resigned after the Windrush scandal earlier this year – to the cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary and relatively unknown Steve Barclay – who has never voted against the government – as the new Brexit Secretary
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured outside the Commons yesterday) sensationally launched his bid to remove Theresa May today threatening her position in the Commons before holding a press conference naming possible successors
In his letter to Sir Graham today, Mr Rees-Mogg reveals he asked the Chief Whip to tell Mrs May her time was up weeks ago
Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, went public today with a letter of no confidence he filed secretly last month
Brexiteer MP Henry Smith also revealed he had joined the revolt against the Prime Minister today
Cornish MP Sheryll Murray said she had also lost confidence in Mrs May’s Brexit policy and wanted a vote on her future
Long term critic Nadine Dorries said the ‘writing has been on the wall for some time’ and she had put in a letter ‘weeks ago’
How Brexiteers would get rid of Theresa May
Brexiteers have attempted a coup against Theresa May in fury at her draft deal with the EU – but they will have to navigate Tory rules to force her out.
The Prime Minister insisted she plans to ‘see this through’ to make clear to the rebels she will not quit voluntarily.
This is how the Tory Party rules work:
What is the mechanism for removing the Tory leader? Tory Party rules allow the MPs to force a vote of no confidence in their leader.
How is that triggered? A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
A vote of no confidence must be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to the chairman. Currently that threshold is 48 MPs.
Letters are confidential unless the MP sending it makes it public. This means only Sir Graham knows how many letters there are.
This possible delay could give Mrs May a ‘grace period’ where she knows a contest is imminent but not yet public knowledge.
A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady (file image)
How is a vote announced? There are few fixed rules but Sir Graham is likely to inform Downing Street or the Chief Whip and then make a public announcement.
Sir Graham is likely to check with the MPs who have sent him a letter before making an announcement in case any of them want to withdraw. This will happen secretly.
How will the vote happen? After it is announced, a vote will happen quickly, with Tory MPs invited to cast a secret ballot in a Commons committee room.
Voting will be open for one day and Sir Graham will announce the result at the end.
Brexiteers have attempted a coup against Theresa May
What needs to happen for Theresa May to win? Officially, Mrs May only needs to win a simple majority of Tory MPs – currently that is 158 MPs.
Politically, winning by one would be devastating. If more than 100 MPs vote against her, most observers think she would be finished.
What happens if she loses? Mrs May is sacked as Tory leader and Sir Graham will announce a leadership contest. She cannot stand in the contest.
She will probably stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is elected but have no political power or authority to do anything.
What happens next? In a Tory leadership contest, any MP can stand with a proposer and seconder.
Tory MPs vote several times a week on the candidates with the last place candidate being removed from the race at each ballot.
When there are only two candidates remaining, a run off is held among all Tory members in the country.
How long will it take? The first phase depends on how many candidates there are. A large field could mean a fortnight or more of regular ballots.
In the past, the second round has taken anywhere from four to 12 twelve weeks – but some think a vote of Tory members could be finished in just a week.
How WILL Theresa May get the votes to pass her Brexit Deal through Parliament? The PM could need the support of more than FIFTY hardcore Brexiteers from her own party plus Labour rebels
Theresa May has secured her deal in Brussels but her fight to get it actually in place in time for Brexit day is just beginning.
If the Cabinet agrees to the deal the biggest hurdle will be the ‘meaningful vote’ on the plans in Parliament.
This is expected to take place in December to ensure the deal is over its biggest hurdle before the end of the year.
The Prime Minister needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.
The number is less than half because the four Speakers, 7 Sinn Fein MPs and four tellers will not take part.
To win, Mrs May will need to get back around half of the 80 hardcore Tory Brexiteer rebels and secure the support of the 10 DUP MPs.
Even then she will probably still need the help of dozens of Labour MPs to save her deal and possibly her job.
Theresa May will need 318 votes in the Commons if every single MP turns up. She can only rely on about 230 votes – meaning she will need to get back around half of the 80 hardcore Tory Brexiteer rebels and secure the support of the 10 DUP MPs, plus dozens of Labour MPs
This is how the House of Commons might break down:
Who are they: All members of the Government are the so-called ‘payroll’ vote and are obliged to follow the whips orders or resign. It includes the Cabinet, all junior ministers, the whips and unpaid parliamentary aides.
How many of them are there? About 150.
What do they want? For the Prime Minister to survive, get her deal and reach exit day with the minimum of fuss.
Many junior ministers want promotion while many of the Cabinet want to be in a position to take the top job when Mrs May goes.
How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.
Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG)
Who are they? Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG counts Boris Johnson, David Davis and other former ministers including Steve Baker and Iain Duncan Smith.
How many of them are there? Estimates vary on how many members it has. It secured 62 signatures on a letter to the PM in February while Mr Baker has claimed the group has a bloc of 80 Tory MPs willing to vote against May’s plans.
The group’s deputy leader Mark Francois said today there were at least 40 hard liners who would vote against the deal in all circumstances.
What do they want? The ERG has said Mrs May should abandon her plans for a unique trade deal and instead negotiate a ‘Canada plus plus plus’ deal.
This is based on a trade deal signed between the EU and Canada in August 2014 that eliminated 98 per cent of tariffs and taxes charged on goods shipped across the Atlantic.
The EU has long said it would be happy to do a deal based on Canada – but warn it would only work for Great Britain and not Northern Ireland.
The ERG say the model can be adapted to work for the whole UK. They say Northern Ireland can be included by using technology on the Irish border to track goods and make sure products which don’t meet EU rules do not enter the single market.
They also say it would give complete freedom for Britain to sign new trade deals around the world to replace any losses in trade with the EU.
The group is content to leave the EU without a deal if Brussels will not give in.
How will they vote: Against the Prime Minister.
Moderates in the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG) and other Loyalists
Who are they? A newer group, the BDG counts members from across the Brexit divide inside the Tory Party. It includes former minister Nick Boles and MPs including Remainer Simon Hart and Brexiteer Andrew Percy.
There are also many unaligned Tory MPs who are desperate to talk about anything else.
How many of them are there? There are thought to be around 50 members in the BDG, with a few dozen other MPs loyal to the Prime Minister
What do they want? The BDG prioritises delivering on Brexit and getting to exit day on March 29, 2019, without destroying the Tory Party or the Government. If the PM gets a deal the group will probably vote for it.
It is less interested in the exact form of the deal but many in it have said Mrs May’s Chequers plan will not work.
Mr Boles has set out a proposal for Britain to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) until a free trade deal be negotiated – effectively to leave the EU but stay in close orbit as a member of the single market.
How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.
Unrepentant Remainers in the People’s Vote
Who are they? A handful of about five Tory MPs – mostly former ministers – who never supported Brexit and think the failure of politicians to get a deal means Parliament should hand it back to the people. The group includes Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and Justine Greening.
What do they want instead? A so-called People’s Vote. The exact timing still needs to be sorted out but broadly, the group wants the Article 50 process postponed and a second referendum scheduled.
This would take about six months from start to finish and they group wants Remain as an option on the ballot paper, probably with Mrs May’s deal as the alternative.
There are established pro-Remain campaigns born out of the losing Britain Stronger in Europe campaign from 2016. It is supported by Tony Blair, the Liberal Democrats and assorted pro-EU politicians outside the Tory party.
How will they vote? Hard to say for sure. Probably with the Prime Minister if the only other option was no deal.
Who are they? The Northern Ireland Party signed up to a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Conservative Party to prop up the Government.
They are Unionist and say Brexit is good but must not carve Northern Ireland out of the Union.
How many of them are there? 10.
What do they want? A Brexit deal that protects Northern Ireland inside the UK.
How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister if the deal breaches the red line, with the Prime Minister if she can persuade them it does not. The group currently says No.
Who are they? Labour MPs who are loyal to Jeremy Corbyn and willing to follow his whipping orders.
How many of them are there? Between 210 and 240 MPs depending on exactly what Mr Corbyn orders them to do.
What do they want? Labour policy is to demand a general election and if the Government refuses, ‘all options are on the table’, including a second referendum.
Labour insists it wants a ‘jobs first Brexit’ that includes a permanent customs union with the EU. It says it is ready to restart negotiations with the EU with a short extension to the Article 50 process.
The party has six tests Mrs May’s deal must pass to get Labour votes.
How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister’s current deal.
Who are they? A mix of MPs totally opposed to Mr Corbyn’s leadership, some Labour Leave supporters who want a deal and some MPs who think any deal will do at this point.
How many of them are there? Up to 45 but possibly no more than 20 MPs.
What do they want? An orderly Brexit and to spite Mr Corbyn.
How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.
Other Opposition parties
Who are they? The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green Caroline Lucas and assorted independents.
How many of them are there? About 60 MPs.
How will they vote? Mostly against the Prime Minister – though two of the independents are suspended Tories and two are Brexiteer former Labour MPs.