At least four ministers were said to be in talks about calling time on the Prime Minister after her attempt to get cross-party backing for a new plan hit a wall of opposition.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove gave an apparent hint that a big Commons vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, due in the week of June 3, should be pulled.
Sources said several Cabinet ministers agreed with him that the vital Bill should be kept back for a new Tory leader to manage.
A Cabinet minister told the Standard: “There are moves against her in Cabinet under way.” The minister added: “The Bill will never be voted on.”
Ministers concerned that Mrs May is heading for a defeat that would damage the chances of a Brexit deal being reached were said to include Mr Gove, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Treasury minister Liz Truss.
In the Commons, Mrs May pleaded with MPs to back her Bill. But numerous Tory MPs today were calling on her to ditch it and resign quickly.
A new attempt was launched at the 1922 Committee to change the party’s rules to allow backbench MPs to sack the Prime Minister once the results of tomorrow’s European Parliament elections — expected to be a disaster — have been counted.
Tory MPs sat in virtual silence when the Prime Minister entered the Commons chamber for weekly Questions.
One senior Tory MP ran his finger across his throat, like a knife, as Mrs May was on her feet defending her 10-point deal. SNP group leader Ian Blackford sniped: “Look at the benches behind you … Her time is up.”
An unusually high number of Cabinet ministers appeared to be away for the start of PMQs, including Mrs Leadsom and Mr Fox. Ms Leadsom eventually turned up nearly 40 minutes late
Demands for her to go were spreading beyond the regular critics to a range of mainstream MPs.
Her first defeat could be on the timing of the Withdrawal Bill, due to be voted on after the Whitsun recess. Mr Gove appeared to slam on the brakes by calling for “a period of reflection”, adding: “I think it is important for all of us just to take a step back and consider what the options are.”
Asked by the Today programme’s Mishal Husain specifically, “Are we definitely going to have a vote in the week of June 3 on this Bill?” he replied: “I think we will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward.”
He added: “I think that, rather than saying anything precipitate, I think everyone should take an opportunity to reflect on what the PM will say later today and look at the Bill.” No 10 sources warned against reading Mr Gove’s reply as signalling a retreat from a vote. But some Tories thought he was suggesting the vote be delayed until a new leader could bring it before the Commons.
Moreover, Cabinet sources indicated that some other ministers were worried the vote would be lost if it goes ahead under Mrs May, leaving her successor to stage a Queen’s Speech before such a Bill could be returned to the House.
A new push by Tory MPs to remove Mrs May from office was building up steam, with Nigel Evans, an executive member of the 1922 Committee, planning to ask for a ballot of backbenchers on whether the rules should be changed — which would be seen as a vote of confidence in Mrs May. He told the Standard: “Her 10-point plan on Brexit was like 10 more nails in our European election coffin..”
Mark Francois, vice-chair of the European Research Group, said: “Theresa May’s big bold offer was dead on arrival at St Thomas’ hospital… we are now in the end game and the sooner she resigns the better.”
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer branded Mrs May “too weak to deliver” a Brexit deal, and her DUP ally Sammy Wilson ruled out backing her Bill, on the grounds that “we will not vote for our own destruction”.
Mrs May has less than 24 hours to decide to push on or retreat, as the vote is due to be confirmed in tomorrow’s Commons business statement.
European election results are due on Sunday night, as a new poll today predicted disaster for both Labour and the Conservatives.
YouGov had the Tories fifth on seven per cent, Labour third behind the Lib Dems on 13 and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party ahead on 38.
source – standard.co.uk