British Prime Minister Theresa May has defied a growing effort to oust her from leadership over plans for a second Brexit referendum vote, but her days may still be numbered.
The prime minister’s time in No.10 was hanging by a thread as a raft of Cabinet ministers demanded changes to her EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
Just a day before European elections that are expected to give the Tories a drubbing at the hands of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, ministers and MPs were in open revolt over May’s bid to win Labour support for her proposals.
House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, a top Cabinet member, resigned on Wednesday, saying she could “no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result.”
Leadsom, a former Tory leadership candidate in 2016, is one of a number of Brexit-supporting colleagues likely to launch a leadership bid after May finally steps down.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Scottish Secretary David Mundell all requested one-on-one meetings with May to demand she strip the Brexit bill of its controversial clauses on a new referendum and U.K.-E.U. customs rules.
However, a defiant May turned down requests for meetings and was refusing to budge from a plan to try a fourth time to get her Brexit plans through parliament, early next month.
Under huge pressure, she agreed to meet Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, on Friday to discuss her future.
HuffPost UK has learned that if May refuses to budge next week, she faces a mass resignation of junior ministers next Monday, the day after the European elections results.
Amid frantic behind-the-scenes attempts to shore up May in office, government sources denied that she would make any public statement on her position on Wednesday night.
Senior Tory grandees on the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee gathered in the Commons but decided not to change party rules to force a fresh vote of confidence in her leadership.
The so-called ‘pizza club’ of Brexiteer cabinet ministers, including Michael Gove, Leadsom and Javid, met privately on Wednesday morning and agreed that May had to pull the Brexit bill to avoid certain defeat.
While they did not specifically discuss ousting May, they understood the implications of their position would mean her departure from No.10 would be hastened.
Allies of Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and other leadership contenders were keen not to be openly plotting against the PM but several MPs said their minds had now been made up to oust May “sooner rather than later”.
One former Cabinet minister said: “She’s just delaying the inevitable now. You saw today how few MPs were in PMQs, her authority has completely gone. She can’t reshuffle or sack anyone, no one listens to what she says.”
In a sign that May’s authority was ebbing away by the minute, the usually loyal MPs Tim Loughton, Andrew Percy and Tom Tugendhat became the latest to demand her resignation.
Foreign affairs committee chairman Tugendhat said: “The moment has come when I’m afraid we need new leadership. It needs to be somebody who voted for Brexit, there are some excellent candidates out there.
“I’m very strongly in favour of a particular individual and I think I’m probably going to end up supporting Michael Gove.”
Loughton, a former campaign manager for Leadsom, revealed he had sent a letter of no confidence in May to the 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.
“We are going backwards we need a new leader who can assert some authority. I can see now way out of the current impasse on Brexit,” he said.
Percy added to SkyNews: “The decision to countenance a second referendum was for me a step too far. I want the prime minister to go with dignity.”
Earlier, May’s spokesman slapped down suggestions from ministers that May went further in her offer to MPs than what was agreed at cabinet.
“There was a discussion at cabinet, the speech represented the agreed way forward,” he said.
Ministers went through the draft text of the WAB in a cabinet reading room on Wednesday, and several swiftly raised concerns as part of the usual process for combing through legislation.
“In the second referendum all you would expect WAB to state would be that there would be a vote to determine one way or another whether the House wants a second referendum to take place,” a spokesman added.