Tory grandee Ken Clarke leads show of support for embattled Theresa May ahead of no confidence vote
Conservative grandee Ken Clarke led MPs rallying around Theresa May in the Commons today, just hours ahead of a vote that could end her premiership.
Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, the senior Tory rebuked plotting colleagues for triggering a vote of no confidence during “a time of grave national crisis”.
The ex-Cabinet minister’s rallying call was echoed by fellow Conservative MPs including Kevin Hollinrake, Maggie Throup and Neil O’Brien - who all backed the Prime Minister to deliver Brexit.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, announced this morning that the 48-letter threshold to trigger a ballot had been reached and that a vote on Mrs May's leadership will begin at 6pm.
The move follows mounting anger at the Prime Minister's Brexit deal, with Eurosceptic fury focused on the Northern Ireland backstop plan to avoid fresh checks at the border with the Republic of Ireland.
But Mr Clarke asked the PM: "At a time of grave national crisis on an issue which we all agree is of huge importance to future generations - can my Rt Hon Friend think of anything more unhelpful, irrelevant, and irresponsible, than for the Conservative Party to embark on weeks of a Conservative leadership election?"
Harborough MP Neil O’Brien meanwhile read out a string of letters from his constituents, including one who had urged him to “support our prime minister unreservedly and vote for this Brexit deal”, and another who had praised her for doing “a terrific job in trying circumstances”.
He said the constituent had told him: “The headbangers from all sides and the supine attitude of the Labour party has meant she’s had an impossible job but she’s done so well.”
Fellow backbencher Maggie Throup meanwhile said voters in her Erewash constituency wanted “strong government”, and urged fellow Tories to “to unite on these benches” and focus on “the real threat to our great nation” which she said Jeremy Corbyn represented.
Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake meanwhile warned his colleagues against “playing parliamentary parlour games”, and backed the Prime Minister's focus on “protecting jobs and businesses by going to the negotiating table and thrashing out a [Brexit] deal that will pass through this House”.
The show of support followed a a raft of pledges from Cabinet ministers swearing their loyalty to Mrs May ahead of tonight's ballot.
Environment Secretary and leading Cabinet Brexiteer Michael Gove said: "I am backing the Prime Minister 100% - and I urge every Conservative MP to do the same. She is battling hard for our country and no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU."
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: "The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong. PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March."
Speaking at PMQs, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said tonight's Tory vote would "make no difference to the people of Britain", and urged her to bring her Brexit deal to the House of Commons after she pulled the vote that had been due to take place this week.
"It does nothing to solve the Government’s inability to get a deal that works for the whole country," he said of the Conservative coup attempt.
"She’s already been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Will she now put this deal before Parliament and halt this escalating crisis which is so damaging to the lives of so many people in this country?"
But Mrs May accused the Labour leader of trying to "bring down the Government, create uncertainty, sow division and crash our economy".
And, in a plea to Conservative MPs to stick with her, she said: "I did travel to Europe yesterday and met a number of heads of government and the Commission and the European Union Council.
"That’s precisely because I had listened to concerns that were raised in this House and have taken those concerns to Europe. And no one that I met yesterday is in any doubt about the strength of concern there is in this House on the issue of the duration of the backstop."