EXPLAINED: How Tory MPs could oust Theresa May in a Brexit leadership challenge

Posted On: 
15th November 2018

European Research Group chair Jacob Rees-Mogg has just called for a vote of no confidence in Theresa May after she unveiled her controversial Brexit deal. But how would that work in practice? PolHome news editor Matt Foster trawls through the Conservative rulebook.

The Prime Minister is under growing pressure over her Brexit deal.
Credit: 
PA

Theresa May is facing arguably the biggest crisis of her troubled premiership after a string of top ministers quit over her draft deal for leaving the European Union. In the febrile atmosphere of Westminster anything could happen - but one increasingly likely outcome is that her own backbenchers will push for a vote of no confidence in the embattled Prime Minister. European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg, ringleader of the Tory Brexiteers, has just called for exactly that.

So how would a no confidence vote start?

In order to do this, 48 letters of no confidence would need to be sent from angry Tory troops to the chairman of the party's 1922 backbench committee, Graham Brady.

That's not just a number plucked out of thin air - under Conservative party rules a challenge is triggered if 15% of Tory MPs who don't have a Government job put in their no confidence letters.

So what happens then?

If the crucial threshold is reached, we'd expect an announcement from Mr Brady about an impending vote, which should take place "as soon as possible in the circumstances prevailing". All Tory MPs would be balloted to vote for or against Mrs May.

What if she wins it?

Conservative rules state that Mrs May would need only a simple majority of her MPs to back her in order to stay on. And if she wins that ballot by as little as a one vote, she cannot face another challenge for a year - buying her some absolutely crucial breathing space. But it won't be plain sailing for the PM even under those circumstances - a tight vote could reveal the sheer scale of opposition to her Brexit plans ahead of a crunch Commons vote.

What if she loses?

If Mrs May loses the vote (again by a simple majority) that's it - she has to step down as party leader and would not be able to stand in the Conservative leadership election that would then automatically follow.

What then?

The race to replace her is ON. Anyone hoping to run for the Tory leadership must attract nominations from at least 15% of Conservative MPs to be in with a chance. If there's more than two in the running, ballots of all Conservative MPs will take place until the field is whittled down to just two. After that - and provided nobody drops out - the vote on the final two candidates will be thrown open to the full Conservative party membership, with ballots sent out across the country in a process that could take months.

Whoever wins that vote is crowned leader and Prime Minister. Buckle up...