Theresa May is facing unprecedented pressure to step down as British Prime Minister amid a backlash within her own party over her desperate efforts to pass a Brexit deal.
Ms May weathered calls from senior Conservative MPs to quit or face being ousted on Thursday morning (Australian time) as the beleaguered leader insisted, “I believe in what I’m doing”.
As senior Tories discussed a possible rule change to allow a fresh bid to depose her, Conservative House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom dramatically quit Ms May’s cabinet, saying she no longer believes the government’s approach will deliver Brexit.
Ms Leadsom, a previous contender for PM, was the 36th Conservative minister to resign under Ms May – 21 of them over Brexit – and comes a day before the UK votes in the European elections.
Earlier, Chief Whip Julian Smith met members of the so-called 1922 Committee, the Conservative Party’s committee of backbench MPs, as rumours circulated in Westminster about the Prime Minister’s future.
A series of cabinet ministers have asked for meetings with Ms May to raise their concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would put her Brexit plan into law.
Downing Street sources said it was possible the PM could meet Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday (local time), but there was no confirmation that an audience would be granted for other ministers with reservations about the plan.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has asked for a meeting to discuss his concerns about the prospect of a second referendum after Ms May revealed she would grant MPs a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the public.
In a visible sign that Ms May’s authority was slipping away, key Brexit-supporting colleagues were absent for the start of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.
Ms May appeared to acknowledge that her leadership was drawing to a close, having already said she will set out a timetable for her departure after the crunch vote on her bill.
“In time, another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box,” she told MPs on Wednesday.
“But while I am here, I have a duty to be clear with the House about the facts.
“If we are going to deliver Brexit in this parliament, we are going to have to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill.”
The 1922 Committee’s executive was asked to consider a rule change to allow Ms May to face another attempt to force her out.
Following the failed bid to oust her in 2018, under the existing rules Ms May would be safe from another confidence motion until December.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested it would be “more dignified and more elegant” if Ms May followed the constitutional convention of quitting because she could not command a Commons majority.
Mr Rees-Mogg asked in Parliament whether the Prime Minister was “going through the motions or does she really believe in it (her deal)?”
“I don’t think I would have been standing here at the despatch box and be in receipt of some of the comments that I’ve been in receipt of, from colleagues on my own side and across the House, if I didn’t believe in what I was doing,” Ms May responded.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is due to be published on Friday and Ms May said backing it would help get the UK out of the EU by the end of July.