Leadsom resigns as Theresa May faces pressure to quit

Key ministers missing from Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons chamber

British prime minister Theresa May says she will offer the UK parliament a vote on whether to advance with a second referendum on Brexit. Video: Reuters

 

Andrea Leadsom has resigned as leader of the UK’s House of Commons, saying she cannot support the prime minister’s Brexit bill.

Leadsom, who has signalled that she expects to launch a leadership bid, published her resignation letter after May resisted intense pressure to step aside.

She was one of several cabinet ministers who were known to be unhappy with some of the 10 concessions set out by May on Tuesday, in a bid to win the support of Labour backbenchers for her deal.

Mrs May faced mounting pressure from her own party to quit or face being ousted, but the UK prime minister insisted “I believe in what I’m doing”.

In a Commons statement she appeared to acknowledge that her premiership was drawing to a close, having already said she will set out a timetable for her departure after the crunch vote on her Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

“In time another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box,” she told MPs.

“But while I am here, I have a duty to be clear with the House about the facts.

“If we are going to deliver Brexit in this Parliament we are going to have to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

“And we will not do so without holding votes on the issues that have divided us the most — that includes votes on customs arrangements and on a second referendum.”

Many of Mrs May’s key ministers were missing from Prime Minister’s Questions and there was a muted atmosphere in the Commons chamber on Wednesday.

Defending her Brexit plan, she said it would offer MPs the chance to decide on key issues including customs arrangements.

British prime minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire
British prime minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire

“Allowing the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will enable this House to come to a decision on that issue.

“It will also allow the House to come to a decision on a second referendum, which I continue to believe would not be the right route for this country to go down.

“We should deliver on the first referendum before suggesting anything about a second.”

Meanwhile, the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May’s promised “bold new deal” is “little more than a repackaged version” of her three-times rejected deal.

He told the Commons: “The rhetoric may have changed but the deal has not.” Mr Corbyn said Mrs May offered no change on a customs union, single market alignment nor on environmental protections.

He went on: “This Government is too weak, too divided to get this country out of the mess that they have created.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told Mrs May her “time is up”.

Senior Conservative MPs will again seek to change party rules to allow a confidence vote in her leadership if she refuses to leave Number 10.

Amid anger at the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), Cabinet minister Michael Gove refused to guarantee that it would now go to the Commons for a vote as planned in early June.

Mrs May had previously promised the Bill would be put before MPs in the week beginning June 3rd.

Mr Gove, a prominent Brexiteer, refused to commit to that timetable, saying: “We will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward.”

But on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he stressed “there has to be a vote” on a Bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement if the UK is to leave the EU with a deal.

Mr Gove said the WAB would be published on Wednesday and “I think the most important thing we should do is reflect on all the options in front of us”.

He added: “I can understand the strong feelings — I have strong feelings — on leaving the European Union that have been aired and articulated over the course of the last 24 hours.

“I think it is also important that there is a period of reflection and a period of analysis as we look at what the Prime Minister has put forward.”

The beleaguered prime minister faces a fresh bid to eject her from Downing Street from the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, which then meets later on Wednesday.

Nigel Evans, who sits on the 1922’s executive, said he would be seeking a rule change to hold another confidence vote and the Prime Minister should “make way for fresh leadership without handcuffing her successor to a poisoned baton”.

Following the failed bid to oust her in 2018, under the existing rules Mrs May should be safe from another confidence motion until December.

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested it would be “more dignified and more elegant” if Mrs May followed the constitutional convention of quitting because she could not command a Commons majority rather than relying on an internal Tory rule change to depose her.

Asked about Mrs May’s future and whether she would still be prime minister next Tuesday, after the results of the European election are clear, Mr Gove said: “I am a supporter of the Prime Minister, I voted for her in the last vote of confidence, I believe that she is working incredibly hard in a difficult situation in order to find a way through for this country, and she has my respect and support... I think the Prime Minister will be Prime Minister next Tuesday, yes.”

Mrs May has written to Mr Corbyn in a plea for support for the WAB, telling him: “I have shown... that I am willing to compromise to deliver Brexit for the British people. “The WAB is our last chance to do so. I ask you to compromise too so that we can deliver what both our parties promised in our manifestos and restore faith in our politics.”

But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Today that Mrs May should abandon the Bill in its current form. “The Prime Minister needs to, today, accept that what she announced yesterday isn’t going to work and pull the vote,” he said. “She has still got time to say ‘I do know what the central concerns of the Labour Party are and I’m prepared to put a concrete policy proposition on the face of the Bill on the issues of a close economic relationship and on the issue of a public vote’.”

Mrs May needs Labour support if she is to stand any chance of getting the legislation through, because the proposals set out on Tuesday failed to win over Tory critics or her DUP allies.

Leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab were among Tories who backed Mrs May’s deal in March but they have vowed to oppose the Bill. Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson said: “We can and must do better — and deliver what the people voted for.” Former Brexit secretary Mr Raab said: “I cannot support legislation that would be the vehicle for a second referendum or customs union.”

- PA