Will Theresa May resign amid Brexit chaos?
PUBLISHED: 08:59 25 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:12 25 March 2019
Theresa May is battling to stay in power as MPs seek to seize control of parliamentary business in a bid to secure a softer Brexit.
At the start of another crunch week in Westminster, the Commons is due to vote on an amendment which would force a series of indicative votes on alternatives to the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement.
Defeat for the Government on Monday night on the plan - tabled by former ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve and Labour MP Hilary Benn - would be a further humiliation for Mrs May.
The proposal seeks to pave the way for a series of indicative votes in the Commons on Wednesday, effectively taking control of the Brexit process out of the hands of the Government.
Over the weekend Conservative Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: “I’m afraid it’s all over for the PM.
“She’s done her best. But across the country you can see the anger.
“Everyone feels betrayed. Government’s gridlocked. Trust in democracy collapsing. This can’t go on.
“We need a new PM who can reach out (and) build some sort of coalition for a Plan B.”
Speaking to the Press Association today he added: “I don’t think there was ever a coup. There are many of us in the backbench party very frustrated that the Cabinet is completely split and briefing against each other.
“If they can’t unite behind Theresa May, then they should have the guts to find somebody they can unite behind. Brexit is like the Death Star of politics. I always feared it would be like this.
“It’s destroying and soaking up all the prime minister’s room for manoeuvre and political goodwill. I was simply saying if that’s where we are, if the price we have to pay is to change to get a solution to this, then so be it.
“I’ve never known this country so divided, so angry and in such a dangerous state. I think we’re close to civil unrest. This is not politics as normal.
“I think one of the extraordinary things about Brexit is it’s made spectators of all of us. I’m an elected representative of 76,000 people and I don’t know what’s going on.”
Keith Simpson, Conservative MP for Broadland, said there was little point in Mrs May resigning.
“I think there are quite a lot of MPs thinking it’s time for a change. But she has no intention of resigning,” he said. “Her one characteristic is her determinism or stubbornness. The only way she will go is if she decides to give up or if there’s a major cabinet revolt.”
And he said while Mrs May’s cabinet had been speaking to the press, there had been little action on their threats.
He felt Mrs May would continue if she “kept her head down” and questioned how long a leadership contest would take.
“I don’t think we can just anoint someone again,” he added.
Mr Simpson, who said he had known David Lidington for a number of years, said he had “no desire to be prime minister”.
“He made that perfectly clear a few weeks ago to colleagues,” he said.
Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney, also felt she should hang on.
“There’s lots of speculation,” he said. “But my own view is we’re right in the eye of the storm at the moment, for the Conservative Party to throw the leader overboard would be the height of irresponsibility.”
Mr Aldous said the time would come where questions over Mrs May’s leadership would be appropriate, but said that time was not now.
He said: “In the summer months time, there will be time to take stock of the situation and in a civilised way - if that is at all possible - have the discussion.”
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth and also Conservative Party chairman, said: “The prime minister is focused on delivering on the referendum to leave the EU and to do so with a deal and in an orderly manner.
“That is the right approach which I fully support and will continue to work on delivering too.”
South Norfolk Conservative MP Richard Bacon said: “The prime minister has already said that she will stand down before the next election. “It is a statement of the obvious that the prime minister’s handling of Brexit has not gone well but I do not think that replacing the PM in the next few days will make any useful difference; if anything, it might even slow things down. I think people just want to get on with leaving the EU.”
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay warned the risk of a general election would increase if MPs took control of parliamentary proceedings and brought about a “constitutional collision”.
Chancellor Philip Hammond said “one way or another” MPs would be given the opportunity this week to decide what it is in favour of, though could not confirm whether Tories would be given a free vote on the options.
After a weekend which saw two senior ministers dismiss reports of a “coup” to oust the PM, Mrs May will convene her Cabinet in the morning before she updates the Commons on the Brexit process following last week’s European Council summit where she agreed to delay Britain’s departure beyond March 29.
On Sunday, Mrs May held “lengthy” talks with prominent Brexiteer backbenchers including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis at her country residence Chequers to discuss whether there is sufficient support among MPs for another vote on her deal.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM and a number of Government ministers met today at Chequers for lengthy talks with senior colleagues about delivering Brexit.
“The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a Meaningful Vote this week.”
Elsewhere, Mr Johnson claimed the Government had “chickened out” of delivering Brexit this week and told Mrs May to set out “convincing proofs” of how the next phase of the negotiations will be different from the last to win support for her deal.
Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “If she cannot give that evidence of change - she should drop the deal, and go back to Brussels, and simply set out the terms that so many on both sides - remainers and leavers - now believe are sensible.
“Extend the implementation period to the end of 2021 if necessary; use it to negotiate a free trade deal; pay the fee; but come out of the EU now - without the backstop. It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels - let my people go.”
However, Foreign Office Minister Mark Field said he would support revoking Article 50 if it became an option in the event Mrs May’s deal was defeated and free votes granted for indicative votes.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “My personal view is that I would be happy to revoke Article 50 - I appreciate that is probably a minority view - but if we get to this utter paralysis and I sincerely hope that in the next 48, 72 hours we do not, then if that becomes an option that’s an option that I would personally take.”
Meanwhile, The Sun newspaper used its front page on Monday to urge Mrs May to promise to resign in order to win support for her deal from Tory Brexiteers and the DUP.
“Unlike so many she has determinedly respected the will of the Leave majority... She must now take the next principled step - and show she is not just another craven politician determined to cling to power,” it said.