May vows to fight on as Gove considers quitting
Hardline Brexiteers divided over whether to push for no confidence vote now or wait for Parliament Brexit vote
Following a day of high political drama in Westminster in which two cabinet secretaries dramatically resigned, Theresa May vowed to fight on with her Brexit deal, even as cabinet minister Michael Gove is understood to be considering quitting.
Gove is believed to have rejected the prime minister's offer to make him Brexit secretary, because May would not let him renegotiate the deal, the BBC says.
Dominic Raab quit the role yesterday, leading to much speculation ahead of the prime minister’s Downing Street press conference last night, but in the end there was no big announcement or change of tack.
In part this was because the real drama was playing out behind closed doors.
Speculation had slowly been mounting all day that 48 letters had been sent to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, which would be enough to trigger a confidence vote in the prime minister.
Arch Brexiteer and head of the influential European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg, became the most prominent Tory to come out against the prime minister and demand a confidence vote.
Yet amid conflicting reports the 48 mark had been reached, there remains no word from Brady.
Tweeting last night, Bloomberg’s Kitty Donaldson says the 48 letters needed for a no confidence vote had not gone in.
It has long been assumed that the ERG had enough hardline Brexiteers ready to trigger a no confidence vote in May, but not enough to win over the 158 Tories which would be needed to oust her.
The party arithmetic has prompted fierce debate among hardliners over whether to push for a vote of no confidence now and risk losing, securing Theresa May another year in office, or use the upcoming parliament vote on her deal as the moment of maximum exposure.
The Guardian’s Jessica Elgot reported that a Eurosceptic former minister leaving a crunch meeting of the ERG yesterday said there was “considerable difference of opinion in the room”.
“If this coup d’etat succeeds, what happens then? The best way to defeat this deal is to defeat it in parliament, in my view” he said.
“There is now an open effort to get the 48 letters required to force a vote of no confidence in Theresa May. Personally, I don’t think it is a racing certainty that this succeeds”, says James Forsyth in The Spectator.
“The ERG WhatsApp group has had some influential people urging caution, and telling people not to put their letters in”, he says.
However, if there is a vote of no confidence called, Theresa May could face a greater threat than conventional wisdom suggests.
“In the privacy of the ballot box, I think a decent chunk of the payroll would vote against the prime minister. Interestingly, one minister who is agnostic on the deal told me that they thought May was now an obstacle to it passing; that a new leader would have a better chance of getting it through”, writes Forsyth.