Tory MPs ask Theresa May to set out resignation timetable

British PM deemed likely to step down if Tories contest MEP elections on May 23rd

First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon: will introduce legislation allowing for a second referendum on Scottish independence by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon: will introduce legislation allowing for a second referendum on Scottish independence by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

 

Conservative MPs have asked Theresa May to set out clearly when she will resign but they rejected a proposal to allow a confidence vote in her leadership as early as June. The backbench 1922 Committee voted against a change to the rule that leaves the prime minister immune to a leadership challenge before next December.

“We looked at the fact that the prime minister gave a very firm timetable for her departure as leader a few weeks ago in the eventuality that the withdrawal agreement is passed in parliament. We have resolved to request that she sets a similarly clear timetable or schedule for her departure as leader in other circumstances. So real clarity for colleagues in parliament and for the Conservative Party in general,” the committee’s chairman Graham Brady said.

Mrs May promised her backbenchers last month that she would resign in time for a new leader to take charge of “the second phase of the Brexit negotiations”. After the House of Commons rejected the withdrawal agreement and the EU agreed to delay Brexit until the end of October, the prime minister’s allies suggested that she would stay in Downing Street until her Brexit deal was approved.

Brexit party threat

She is now under pressure to outline what Sir Graham called a “roadmap” towards her resignation, which some Conservative MPs believe will become inevitable if the party contests European Parliament elections on May 23rd. Polls point to a collapse in the Conservative vote as supporters switch to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which announced on Wednesday that former Tory frontbencher Anne Widdecombe will stand as one of its candidates next month.

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond told a Commons committee on Wednesday that the legal default remained leaving the EU without a deal at the end of October. He said that business investment in Britain was 20 per cent below the figure expected before the 2016 referendum.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would introduce legislation allowing for a second referendum on Scottish independence by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead. But she declined to set a date for a referendum and said she would establish citizens’ assemblies to consider Scotland’s constitutional future.

“We have seen in Westminster what happens when parties fail to work together; when leaders take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach and when so many red lines and inflexible preconditions are set that progress becomes impossible,” she told the Scottish parliament.

SNP divisions

“This place was established with the hope that it would be a new type of parliament. We can show that we are able to put the interests of the people first. So if others across this chamber are willing to move forward in that spirit, they will find in me an equally willing partner.”

Opposition leaders accused the first minister of seeking to paper over divisions within her Scottish National Party (SNP) about a second independence referendum rather than uniting Scotland.

“Nicola Sturgeon is using her office as first minister to put the interests of the SNP before the interests of our country,” Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said. 

“Her statement today is not about Brexit; this is about Nicola Sturgeon trying to pacify her party members and backbenchers ahead of the SNP conference. The chaos of Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of leaving a political and economic union. Leaving the UK would lead to unprecedented austerity for Scotland’s public services.”