Three hours to save her job: May tries to quell revolt by hinting
Theresa May tried to quell the Tory revolt today by delivering a broad hint that she won’t be in charge at the next general election.
Acknowledging widespread unhappiness among MPs, the Prime Minister insisted the no confidence vote tonight is ‘not about who leads the party into the next election’.
The signal from Mrs May that she is ready to step down once Brexit is delivered came after she vowed to fight with ‘everything I’ve got’ to beat the Eurosceptic coup bid.
The contest is being held after hardliners secured the 48 letters from Conservative MPs needed to force a ballot that could bring her time as leader to a shambolic end.
At a rowdy PMQs this afternoon, watched by husband Philip from the gallery, Mrs May warned Brexit will need to be delayed beyond March if she loses and Jeremy Corbyn might end up in power.
She appealed for more time to secure further concessions on the controversial exit package she has thrashed out with the EU.
Some 159 MPs have publicly declared that they will back her, putting her seemingly on course to survive tonight – although as it is a secret ballot there is no guarantee they are telling the truth.
In a major concession designed to ease tensions further, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘She does not believe that this vote today is about who leads the party into the next election.
‘It is about if it is sensible to change leadership during the Brexit negotiation.’
He added: ‘She will serve as long as the party wants her.’
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful Tory 1922 committee, emerged this morning to announce the threshold of 48 letters had been ‘exceeded’ and Mrs May was eager to resolve the issue ‘rapidly’.
Mrs May will deliver a make-or-break speech to MPs behind closed doors at 5pm before the secret ballot opens an hour later. The crucial result will be declared as soon as the 317 votes have been counted.
Cabinet ministers rallied to try and shore up Mrs May, with Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, Penny Mordaunt and Brandon Lewis among those making clear they will be supporting her.
But despite their entreaties the Tories quickly descended into outright civil war, with David Davis hinting that he might vote against the PM, while her allies accused mutineers of being ‘divisive and disloyal’.