Theresa May risks Tory Brexiteer fury with hint she could stay on until October
Theresa May has risked fresh anger from Conservative MPs as she refused to say whether she will quit before the new 31 October Brexit deadline.
She told MPs last month that she was not prepared to delay Brexit past 30 June "as Prime Minister" and also vowed to step aside once the first phase of talks with the EU had been completed.
That would have paved the way for a Conservative leadership contest in time for the party's annual conference in the autumn - but the new six-month extension granted by EU leaders now throws that timetable into doubt.
Asked whether she could stay in post despite the prospect of her June deadline now being missed, Mrs May said: "What we have agreed tonight means that we can leave the European Union before 30 June.
"What we need is to ensure that we have an agreement in Parliament, that we can get through the necessary legislation to enable us to leave.
"I want us to leave the EU with a deal, so it's an orderly exit, as soon as possible. This decision enables us to do that."
But a Conservative source made clear that the Prime Minister's vow to quit was dependent on MPs passing a Brexit deal, and was not tied to a particular date.
“As a point of fact, when she made the announcement at the 1922 [Committee of Conservative MPs] and in front of parliament that she was prepared to stand down as prime minister once we had completed phase one of the negotiations and for there to be a new leadership in place for phase two, effectively that is the ratification of the withdrawal agreement. That remains the case,” the source said.
They added: "She understands that the Conservative party feels a sense that new leadership is required for the second phase of negotiations.
"That was the commitment she gave to her parliamentary colleagues and that’s one she stands by."
The move risks triggering an angry backlash from some Tory eurosceptics, who have been urging the Prime Minister to step aside in favour of an avowed Brexiteer.
Under Conservative party rules, Mrs May cannot be challenged until December, a year after she saw off a confidence vote in her leadership.
But The Telegraph reports that some Tory MPs are now urging local associations to force a rule change to allow a fresh bid to oust her.
The party's constitution states that party rules can be tweaked if a petition of gathers the names of 10,000 Tory members, with one MP telling a WhatsApp group: "Has this been considered, as a way around the 12-month protection? There are easily that many members who would sign."
Brexiteers have meanwhile been pushing for a so-called "indicative" ballot of Tory MPs, designed to signal opposition to Mrs May staying in post without formally removing her as Conservative leader.