Tory MPs plot leadership challenge against Theresa May amid furious row over Brexit stance
Theresa May could face a challenge against her leadership within days after Conservative Brexiteers last night openly discussed their tactics for removing her from office.
In a further sign of deep Tory splits, members of the pro-Brexit European Research Group talked through the party’s process for unseating the Prime Minister unless she dumps the strategy agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers in July.
Mrs May has faced growing criticism over over her plan to maintain close economic links with the EU after Brexit, which led to the resignations of two of her most high profile Cabinet Ministers – Boris Johnson and David Davis.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson described the deal as “worse than the status quo”, while former Brexit minister Steve Baker has said 80 of his Tory colleagues were prepared to vote it down in the Commons.
At a later ERG meeting, Brexiteers suggested that they could even force a no confidence vote in Mrs May before the party’s conference in Birmingham in three weeks' time if she refused to back down.
One MP present said: “If she won’t chuck Chequers then I’m afraid the party will chuck her.”
The party’s rules dictate that 1922 committee chair Graham Brady must receive 48 letters from MPs to trigger a no confidence vote, with the Telegraph reporting that he currently has 35.
According to the BBC, other MPs present at the meeting said Mrs May's leadership was "a disaster" and declared that "this can't go on”.
One one of those present told ITV's Robert Peston: "We've just had an ERG mass meeting, 50 odd MPs present, where virtually the only topic of conversation for 40/50 mins was: how best do we get rid of her? What's the best way to use our letters?"
Meanwhile, other Tory MPs also made their anger with Mrs May clear to her chief of staff Gavin Barwell at a Downing Street dinner last night.
Asked if there would be a coup, Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen said: "We'll just have to wait and see. I hope the Prime Minister will take on board what she's heard and chuck Chequers."
However, the Times reports that some Conservative MPs are distancing themselves from the ERG’s hardline stance, with a number admitting that they could vote for the Chequers deal to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Former transport minister John Hayes told the newspaper: “If Chequers represents the final offer then through gritted teeth I could wear it.
“But if it is merely an opening bid and the EU end up negotiating us down even further then I couldn’t.”
Another MP who asked not to be named said: “If Theresa May comes back with something that looks like Chequers I would look very carefully at it and I suspect I would go along with it.”
A third added: “A good number of my Brexiteer colleagues are saying in private that they won’t rock the boat if she comes back with a deal that looks like Chequers.
“Then you’ve got the ‘pay and rations brigade’ of people who are on the way up and I suspect the rebellion will be less than the ERG predicts.”
Meanwhile, according to the Sun, Mrs May could be preparing her own climbdown over Chequers, with Number 10 reportedly considering a “pivot” away from the deal if necessary.
A Cabinet minister told the newspaper: “Plan A is the EU27 show enough leg to keep Chequers alive, at least until after conference.
“That’s far from clear yet, so we need a Plan B.
“That is, if you’re in a cul de sac the best way to get out of it is fast.”
A senior minister added: “The Prime Minister will not be left stranded, so work is under way to ensure she can pivot away from Chequers quickly if she needs to after Salzburg."