Theresa May is expected to announce her departure from No 10 tomorrow after a cabinet mutiny over her Brexit plan.
The prime minister defied an attempt to force her from office last night, insisting that she would spend today campaigning in the European elections. Her allies believe, however, that she will declare that she is leaving after a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee.
Mrs May was finally cornered after cabinet ministers joined the Tory revolt over her offer to facilitate the option of a second referendum.
Last night Andrea Leadsom resigned as leader of the Commons, becoming the 36th minister to quit Mrs May’s government. She left to avoid having to lay out the timetable for legislation today that she and other Brexiteer ministers oppose. A vote on the withdrawal bill is officially planned for June 7.
“I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result,” Mrs Leadsom wrote in her resignation letter, adding that another Brexit vote would be “dangerously divisive”. In a swipe at the cabinet’s Remain faction she said that Mrs May’s “tolerance” of them had “led to a complete breakdown of collective responsibility”.
Mrs Leadsom was among those who most vociferously argued against further compromises at Tuesday’s cabinet. Mrs May’s position weakened dramatically yesterday as it became clear that anger was not limited to Brexiteers.
“I thought she deserved one last roll of the dice. But she took those dice and threw them off the table,” one cabinet minister said of the second referendum offer, which some believe went further than had been agreed at the meeting.
The first sign of trouble came when it was revealed that David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, had asked to see Mrs May to express his discontent at the move, which could open the door to a referendum on Scottish independence.
A little later it was disclosed that Sajid Javid, the home secretary, had also asked for a meeting at which he intended to tell her that her “bold” offer to Labour MPs of a vote on a second referendum must be ditched.
Mrs May refused to meet them, instead attending her weekly audience with the Queen. As she did so Tory MPs on the executive of the 1922 Committee met while demands grew for another vote of confidence in the prime minister.
After a short meeting with Julian Smith, the chief whip, backbenchers were told that Mrs May had agreed to meet Sir Graham tomorrow. Her allies said it was clear that she intended to set out her departure timetable. “She thought she had a duty to have one last go but if that’s not going to be possible then she’s out of road,” one said.
Conservative MPs were frustrated that the 1922 Committee’s executive did not change the rules last night to allow a new confidence vote in Mrs May but it later emerged that the group had voted on whether to change the rules.
According to ITV, they each placed their votes in a sealed envelope and will open and count them only if Mrs May does not tell Sir Graham tomorrow that she is stepping down.
Brexiteer MPs had been waiting for the result of today’s European elections, which is expected on Monday, to step up their demands for her to quit. Polls suggest that the Tories will come fifth.
A resignation tomorrow, after just under three years in No 10, would spare Mrs May the worst of a brutal inquest. Whenever she resigns she will remain as prime minister while her successor is elected in a two-stage process under which two candidates will face a ballot of 125,000 Tory party members.
The process is likely to take between a month and six weeks and there is mounting pressure for a timetable that will allow a new prime minister to take charge before MPs’ summer recess.