Some important breaking news in Westminster this morning: Prime Minister Theresa May will face a confidence vote among Tory MPs tonight after the threshold to trigger the ballot was reached. Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, announced that at least 48 MPs had written to him calling for a new leader. He also announced an unexpectedly fast timetable, with the matter to be settled in the next 12 hours or so.
Edelman will keep you updated with developments throughout the day and into the night, but here is what we know and what to expect.
It has been announced that at least 48 Conservative MPs have written to Sir Graham Brady to express a lack of confidence in Theresa May.
Letters poured in after the Prime Minister decided to pull Tuesday’s planned vote on the Brexit deal, passing the threshold to trigger a no-confidence vote in her leadership. The decision not to hold the vote has angered both hardline Brexiteers but also some more moderate Conservatives who now feel May cannot guide the country to a successful Brexit outcome.
In an unexpected development, Sir Graham announced that the vote will take place this evening. After rumours began swirling last night that the threshold had been reached, it had been thought that a vote would take place on Monday because the Prime Minister is attending a European Council summit in Brussels tomorrow and Friday.
Theresa May has given a statement in Downing Street, vowing to “contest that vote with everything I have got”. She pulled no punches in her short speech, saying a Conservative leadership contest would “put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it”.
Appealing to moderate Brexiteers in her party, she warned that a Conservative leadership contest would take six weeks – meaning a new leader would not take over before the January 21 deadline for a vote on her Brexit deal. She said that risked handing control of Brexit to opposition MPs in Parliament, would mean the need to either extend or revoke the Article 50 process – “delaying or even stopping Brexit”.
She also said it would mean “weeks of tearing ourselves apart”, adding that “none of that would be in the national interest”. Her message was clear: I’m acting in the national interest, while the plotters are acting in narrow self interest which puts Brexit at risk and could result in Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Prime Minister’s fate now rests in the hands of Conservative MPs and will be settled before she goes to bed tonight.
If she loses the confidence vote, the Conservative Party – and the country – will be looking for a new leader with just 107 days until Britain is due to leave the European Union.
If she survives, she will be leading a deeply split party and may be too wounded to carry on.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
First, the timetable: Tory MPs will vote on whether or not they have confidence in Theresa May’s leadership between 6pm and 8pm this evening. A result is expected shortly afterwards. If the Prime Minister wins the support of half her party – 158 MPs – she has the right to carry on, and cannot be challenged again for a year. If she loses, the Conservatives will begin a leadership contest which Theresa May cannot stand in. She will remain Prime Minister until a new leader is elected.
It means the Prime Minister and her allies will spend the day speaking to MPs in an attempt to secure the required support to win the vote, repeating her messages delivered on the steps of Downing Street this morning. She will face a tricky session of Prime Minister’s Questions at noon. At 5pm, just ahead of the vote she will address the Conservative Party to set out her stall one last time for why they should back her.
Opponents of Theresa May will also spend the day trying to rally enough support to oust her, and will be looking for high-profile new supporters to break cover. If they could get the backing of a Cabinet Minister it would be a serious blow to the PM’s hope of surviving.
Supporters and opponents have already begun making their positions public. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was one of the first out of the blocks to say he would back the PM, while senior Brexit-backing backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin revealed he was among those who had put a letter in to trigger the contest.
But it is worth noting that the vote is a secret ballot – those publicly declaring their positions may choose to vote differently when push comes to shove. This may particularly be the case for Cabinet Ministers with leadership ambitions, for example…
CAN SHE SURVIVE?
Opinion is deeply split in the party as to whether the Prime Minister will win. Before the decision to pull the Brexit vote there had been a feeling what while opponents might get the required 48 names to force a leadership challenge, they could not muster the 158 needed to remove her. But the mood has shifted, and Tory MPs may feel that they do not want her to be safe for another year – as she would be under the rules if she wins.
While she only “needs to win by one vote” to survive the leadership challenge, as one MP put it, the reality is that such a close result would make it difficult for her to carry on. Her opponents will also not give up trying to get rid of her.
But if Theresa May wins by a large margin then she will be able to claim she has legitimacy for her Brexit plan among Conservatives, and press on trying to secure changes that will get it through the Commons. The focus among her team will be to seek to make the margin of victory as large as possible
As noted above, if she loses she will still remain Prime Minister until the Conservatives find a new leader – expected to take several weeks. It means she could be attending tomorrow’s European Council summit as a leader who has been ousted by her party but remains in charge of the country.