In Depth

Is Theresa May on the verge of being ousted - again?

In Depth: civil war in Conservative Party threatens PM

Theresa May is facing the biggest threat to her leadership yet following the latest Conservative Party row over Brexit.

Between Philip Hammond’s Brexit-lite comments in Davos, and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s newly aggressive pro-Brexit stance, “the civil war” within May’s party “is now erupting above the surface”, says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.

Hammond stirred the pot with his so-called soft Brexit speech at the World Economic Forum this week, when he said: “We are taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between them, and selectively moving them, hopefully, very modestly, apart.”

Pro-Brexiteer Tory MPs “promptly lost their cool”, says HuffPost. Former minister Andrew Percy advised the Chancellor to “put a sock in it”, while Conor Burns tweeted: “Not sure why some don’t seem able to grasp the policy.”

Tory backbencher Rees-Mogg, speaking at a school in Hampshire, said a soft Brexit strategy appeared likely to land the UK in a “similar system to the single market and the customs union” and risked turning Brexit into a mere “damage limitation exercise”, Politico reports. Asked for his thoughts on Hammond’s Brexit vision, Rees-Mogg added: “I profoundly disagree.”

Embarking on yet another damage-limitation exercise, May appeared to back the Brexiteers. A Downing Street source told the Press Association: “Whilst we want a deep and special economic partnership with the EU after we leave, these could not be described as very modest changes.”

The cabinet rift comes on the heels of Boris Johnson’s NHS funding demands earlier this week. Meanwhile, Conservative MPs have told The Guardian that some of their colleagues are considering another attempt to oust the Prime Minister if local elections scheduled for 3 May go badly.

Many wonder whether lawmakers may soon trigger a motion of no-confidence: 48 MPs must submit letters to the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers to force the vote.

According to The Sun, the number of letters sent by MPs calling for May to go is approaching that figure - although 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady told The Times that the rumours “should be taken with a very large pinch of salt”.

Daily Express correspondent David Maddox quotes an unnamed cabinet minister as saying that Johnson is preparing to make his leadership bid. 

All may not be lost for the PM, however. The “fundamentals keeping May in power - that Tory MPs don’t want a leadership contest that could trigger a fresh general election, which Labour might win - remain the same as they have for months”, says Politico’s Charlie Hooper.

The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush adds: “Don't forget that both Margaret Thatcher (the first time) and John Major saw off confidence votes.”

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