Theresa May halts vote on new Brexit deal as her leadership enters 'death spiral'
An isolated Prime Minister began the day by rebuffing members of her own Cabinet demanding to see her, prompting one minister to say: “The shutters have come down at No 10.”
But by mid-morning Mrs May appeared to have accepted defeat.
In a dramatic retreat, the Government dropped plans to publish and vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which triggered a massive Cabinet revolt and Andrea Leadsom’s resignation last night as Commons leader.
Then No 10 said Mrs May would be “meeting ministers” this afternoon to discuss their concerns about the Bill.
An exclusive Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard reveals that the Conservatives are facing a rout in today’s European elections — getting a humiliating vote share of just nine per cent and putting them in danger of being overtaken by the Greens.
Mrs May is under massive pressure to announce her resignation tomorrow when she will be handed an ultimatum by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.
In key developments as her premiership entered what one MP called “a death spiral”, it emerged:
A “nuclear code” envelope containing the results of a secret ballot of 1922 Committee executive members has been prepared by Sir Graham. It will be opened if Mrs May refuses to give a date for her resignation. The ballot is likely to show a slim majority for changing the party rules to allow her to be formally ousted.
Up to a dozen Cabinet ministers opposed to WAB were believed to have been denied meetings with Mrs May. Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Scottish Secretary David Mundell were among Cabinet members urgently seeking to discuss the Bill. Later Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he expected to meet Mrs May this afternoon but would not reveal what they would be discussing.
More ministers were discussing following Mrs Leadsom’s resignation in protest at the WAB, but reading out government business, senior whip Mark Spencer said the House would not be sitting on Friday June 7, the day scheduled for its second reading.
In an unprecedented leadership crisis, Tory MPs called for Mrs May to quit even as voters went to the polls. Sir David Evennett, MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford who is normally a loyal backbencher, tweeted: “Theresa May must now resign. We need a new PM a new Cabinet and a new approach to Brexit.”
Cabinet ministers made clear in private that Mrs May should announce tomorrow or Monday at the latest that she will quit as party leader to allow a leadership contest lasting six weeks or so to begin.
A minister said it was unclear whether Mrs May yet understood that her support had been withdrawn at all levels of the party.
Senior ministers said Mrs May would remain at No 10 until a new leader is picked in early July, which means she will go to the EU summit next month and oversee Donald Trump’s state visit.