Brexit

Theresa May vows to fight 'with everything I've got'

British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street, London, after the 1922 Committee announced that enough Conservative MPs have requested a vote of confidence in Mrs May to trigger a leadership contest. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor

British Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to fight an effort to oust her as Conservative leader and prime minister "with everything I've got".

In a dramatic early morning statement outside the door to 10 Downing Street, Mrs May warned a change of prime minister would put the UK's future at risk and could delay or halt Brexit.

She insisted she would stay on to "finish the job" she has set herself as prime minister.

Mrs May's statement came about an hour after it was confirmed the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, had received the 48 letters of no confidence from Tory MPs required to trigger a ballot on the leadership.

The vote will take place between 6pm and 8pm tonight, with the result announced soon afterwards.

 

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Mrs May needs to secure the votes of 158 MPs - half the parliamentary party plus one - to remain as Conservative leader, though a vote of 100 or more against her will raise questions about whether she can continue.

If she wins, another challenge cannot be mounted against her position as Tory leader for a year.

Immediate statements of loyalty for the prime minister were issued by every MP in Cabinet, including several who have been touted as possible successors.

By 11am, the number of Tory MPs tweeting their intention to vote for the PM had passed 100.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Mrs May was "the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU on March 29", while Home Secretary Sajid Javid said a leadership contest would be seen as "self-indulgent and wrong".

But in a joint statement, the chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and his deputy Steve Baker said: "Theresa May's plan would bring down the government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it.

"Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May's leadership. In the national interest, she must go."

Standing before the famous door to Number 10, a defiant Mrs May said: "Sir Graham Brady has confirmed that he has received 48 letters from Conservative MPs so there will now be a vote of confidence in my leadership of the Conservative Party.

"I will contest that vote with everything I've got."

'A change of leadership would put our country's future at risk'

Mrs May said securing a Brexit deal which will deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum is "now within our grasp", and added she is "making progress" in securing reassurances from EU leaders on MPs' concerns about the proposed backstop for the Irish border.

But she warned: "A change of leadership in the Conservative Party now would put our country's future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it."

A new leader could not be in place by the January 21 deadline by which the PM must confirm an agreement in principle had been reached with Brussels on a Brexit deal, she said.

"A leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiation to opposition MPs in Parliament," she said.

"The new leader wouldn't have time to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through Parliament by March 29, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50 - delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it."

A leadership election "would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation or the parliamentary arithmetic", she said.

"Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart would only create more division, just when we should be standing together to serve our country. None of that would be in the national interest.

"The only people whose interests would be served are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell."

Mrs May said she wants to focus on voters' priorities like the economy, public services and housing, as well as delivering on the referendum vote.

She said she has devoted herself "unsparingly" to delivering her agenda of "building a country that works for everyone" since becoming PM, adding: "I stand ready to finish the job."

The pound fell briefly in response to news of the challenge to Mrs May, but later rallied.

Mrs May cleared the decks to lobby Tory MPs for their backing, cancelling a planned meeting of Cabinet and a trip to Dublin for talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

She is expected to speak with individual Tory MPs during the day before addressing the 1922 Committee at 5pm, immediately before the crucial vote.

But she must also face the House of Commons for what may prove to be her final session of Prime Minister's Questions.

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: "With only weeks left before Britain leaves the EU, Theresa May's weakness and failure has completely immobilised the Government at this critical time for the country.

"The prime minister's half-baked Brexit deal does not have the backing of her Cabinet, her party, Parliament or the country.

"The Conservative Party's internal divisions are putting people's jobs and living standards at risk."

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