1922 Committee agrees to let PM wait until after vote on withdrawal agreement bill in early June
Theresa May has agreed to set a timetable for her departure as prime minister in the first week of June, which MPs believe means she will trigger a leadership contest before the summer.
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, said she would agree a timetable for the election of a new leader after the Brexit legislation returned to parliament for a final attempt in the week of 3 June.
Another member of the 1922 Committee told the Guardian May would have to name a quick date for her departure if the withdrawal bill was voted down, and the executive would expect there to be a leadership contest before the summer.
The MP said some Brexit supporters on the committee were disappointed that the prime minister was not forced to announce her departure immediately but this represented a “fair compromise”.
Brady’s announcement will intensify the leadership contest that has already been playing out among cabinet ministers and ambitious backbenchers for weeks. Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, was the latest to throw his hat into the ring on Thursday, saying he would “of course” go for it when there is a vacancy.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary, was giving a speech at the same time setting out his stall on small businesses, while Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has done numerous events to boost her profile in the last few days.
May still hopes that her withdrawal bill legislation could pass, enabling her to stay a bit longer to see the process of getting an agreement through. However, the heavy hint that she will resign if the legislation is rejected once again is likely to incentivise even more Eurosceptic Tories to vote against it.
Labour has said it will not support it either without a formal deal involving a customs union and assurances that it cannot be unpicked by a future Conservative leader, meaning it is highly likely to be rejected.
Speaking after the 90-minute meeting, Brady said: “The prime minister is determined to secure our departure from the European Union and is devoting her efforts to securing the second reading of the withdrawal agreement bill in the week commencing 3rd June 2019 and the passage of that bill and the consequent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union by the summer.
“We have agreed that she and I will meet following the second reading of the bill to agree a timetable for the election of a new leader of the Conservative and Unionist party.”
Brady said it had been a frank discussion and all sides of the committee had given the prime minister their views. He said the timetable would be set out “regardless of what the vote is, whether it passes or whether it fails to pass” and said it would give “much greater clarity about the timetable for the election of a new leader.” No 10 said the statement had been agreed with Brady.
May had agreed to meet with the committee’s executive on Thursday, which represents Tory backbenchers, after mutinous MPs demanded a specific timetable for her departure from No 10.
The prime minister has only committed so far that she will resign after passing the first stage of the Brexit process, before the negotiations on the future relationship begin.
Downing Street had already previously hinted the prime minister sees the vote on the withdrawal agreement bill – scheduled for the week beginning 3 June – as make or break for her premiership and the deal she has negotiated. The week will be politically significant as Donald Trump’s state visit is also scheduled to take place and a by-election in the swing seat of Peterborough is due to happen on 6 June.
Before the meeting, executive member Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said it would be “much more dignified” for May to name a date, rather than oblige the committee to change party rules to oust her.
Last month the executive narrowly voted against a rule change, but it is believed that opinion would switch if May after all declined to name a date.
Asked when the prime minister should depart, he told Sky News: “Personally, the sooner the better, and that’s not being unkind to the prime minister. I just think the longer this goes on, it’s not in the nation’s interests, it’s not in the party’s interests. We’ve got European elections looming. Goodness knows what the results of that will be.
The international development secretary, Rory Stewart, said setting a departure date would not “make the slightest difference” to getting her Brexit deal approved.
“People said it would be two months ago when she announced that she was stepping down and it didn’t help her get votes through the House of Commons,” he told the Press Association.
“The problem is the country is split absolutely down the middle – Scotland against England, London against the north, young people against old – and it’s a very divided, fractious issue which is why we’ve got to get it resolved and move on.”
Should she still be in office, May will also face a no-confidence vote from party officials and members on 15 June at an extraordinary general meeting – though it is non-binding.
Theresa May smiles as she leaves parliament on Thursday. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images