The UK was poised for more political chaos on Wednesday (12 December) as Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to ride through a no-confidence vote with “everything I’ve got” after her own Conservative MPs formally launched a move to oust her.
Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, confirmed he had received 48 letters from MPs, reaching the 15% threshold needed to trigger a no-confidence vote. The vote by the 316 Conservative MPs will take place at 6 pm (7 pm European time) and the result expected to be declared by 8 pm.
In a statement outside Downing Street, May added that a leadership contest would “put our country’s future at risk”.
Officially, May only needs 158 votes to survive, but a hefty vote of more than 100 or more MPs against her could also force her to stand down. That would prompt a full leadership contest which could last several months.
The UK is formally set to leave the EU on 29 March next year unless it revokes the Article 50 process or asks for a delay. May is due to attend a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on 13-14 December, where she hoped to seek small concessions from EU leaders that could help her sell the WIthdrawal Agreement at home and stave off a no deal Brexit.
The decision to hold the vote immediately could frustrate hard Brexiteers, who have tabled most of the letters, by preventing them from campaigning against May and offering an alternative candidate.
Cabinet ministers, including potential leadership candidates such as Brexit campaigner Michael Gove, were quick to offer public support to May.
May warned that electing a new leader would inevitably delay the Brexit process, while Justice Minister David Gauke told the BBC that “if she loses tonight I think whoever becomes prime minister will have to delay Article 50”.
May has been under pressure ever since she lost her governing majority after calling an early election in June 2017.
Disgruntled MPs started to lodge no-confidence letters in July, following her Chequers proposal on future relations with the EU.
On Monday, May postponed a vote by MPs on the Withdrawal Agreement she struck with EU leaders in November, after being warned that she faced heavy defeat.