Brexit: Calls grow for Theresa May to resign in bill backlash

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Theresa May

The prime minister is facing growing calls to resign amid a backlash against her Brexit plan from Conservative MPs.

Several cabinet ministers have told the BBC that she cannot stay, with one saying it is “the end of the line”.

Others, though, insist Theresa May should push on with her plan to put her Withdrawal Agreement Bill to a vote.

Mrs May’s own MPs have been unhappy with the concessions she has set out in the bill, but she has called for “compromise on all sides”.

The BBC’s political editor says Home Secretary Sajid Javid – who wants the second referendum vote requirement removed from the bill – and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt have both requested a private meeting with the PM.

But she says the PM has declined to meet the ministers – who are both seen as possible contenders to be the next Conservative leader – tonight.

Laura Kuenssberg also says the so-called “Pizza Club” of Brexiteer cabinet members – which include Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox – met while Mrs May was answering questions in the House earlier – a move she described as “a bad omen for the PM”.

Leadership rules

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the legislation required to bring the agreement between the UK and EU on the terms of Brexit into law.

Mrs May has faced criticism from all sides since setting out changes to it, including new guarantees on workers’ rights, environmental protections and the Northern Irish border, as well a customs “compromise”.

She is insisting it is Parliament’s “last chance” to get Brexit done, but the backlash to it has been widespread.

The PM has pledged to set a timetable for a new leader to take over after MPs vote on the plan – in theory, on 7 June – but the clamour is growing for a departure sooner than that.

Calls for Mrs May’s resignation are also coming from some Conservatives who have, until now, stayed loyal.

Writing in the Financial Times, Tom Tugendhat said: “Leadership matters; it has been absent for too long,” he said. “This can only change with a new prime minister.”

Former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb has said Mrs May should go as soon as possible, and there needs to be a new PM “within weeks”.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said one government minister had told him that the PM “has to go now”, while a former minister has said the nation should be spared the “self-indulgence” of a Tory leadership contest.

Meanwhile, members of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs are considering whether to change the group’s rules to allow for a no confidence vote to take place against Mrs May immediately.

A meeting of the committee has broken up without agreeing a change, but following a brief conversation with chief whip Julian Smith, it is expected to gather again at 18:00 BST.

‘Not a compromise’

The UK was meant to leave the EU on 29 March, but that has been pushed back to 31 October after the Commons rejected Mrs May’s withdrawal deal with Brussels three times.

Attempts to find a cross-party compromise via formal talks broke down last week, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has rejected Mrs May’s attempts to win his MPs over with her Brexit withdrawal bill plan.

Mr Corbyn said her “bold new deal” was really a “repackaged version” of her failed withdrawal agreement, added: “No Labour MP can vote for a deal with the promise of a prime minister who only has days left in her job.”

He said the issue of Brexit had been “dividing our society and poisoning our democracy”, but claimed Mrs May’s deal “does not represent a genuine compromise”.

Addressing her critics in the Commons earlier, Mrs May said: “In time, another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box, 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 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,” she said.

“In the end, our job in the House is to take decisions, not duck them.”

Stand firm and push on

Conservatives I spoke to commented on Theresa May’s position with a mixture of sympathy and derision.

One long-standing Brexiteer described PMQs as her leaving party. Another Leaver simply muttered tersely that it was “grim”, while a Remainer, who had been prepared to back her deal, mulled “why is she putting herself through any more of this?”

Inside Downing Street, there is a recognition that there will be an attempt to oust Mrs May before her Brexit deal gets as far as a vote.

The intention is to stand firm and push on.

But there is an understanding of how difficult it will be.

Read more from Iain Watson here

Current 1922 Committee rules dictate that the group can hold a vote of confidence in their party leader if its chairman, Sir Graham Brady, receives letters calling for it from 15% of the parliamentary party – currently 47 MPs.

However, as the PM survived such a vote in December, the rules say she cannot face another one for 12 months.

An earlier attempt to change the rules failed – but Tory MP Tim Loughton tweeted a picture of a letter to Sir Graham, adding: “Enough said.”

The SNP’s leader in Westminster Ian Blackford – who supports a further referendum to remain in the EU – said it was time for the prime minister to go, having “lost the trust of the public”.

“This deal is dead,” he added.

The DUP, which props up Mrs May’s government, has also refused the vote for the bill.

Labour’s Liz Kendall backed the call for a public vote, telling Mrs May she will not get enough support for her bill from opposition members without including a confirmatory ballot as part of the deal – rather than just offering a vote on whether to have one.

But Conservative MP Vicky Ford said: “We cannot continue to leave our country in this uncertainty. It has to stop. The whole House has to stop saying no to everything on the table just because it is not our favourite dish.

“If we vote for this bill we can move on and the discussion on the next stage can start.”

What is in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill?

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Media captionTheresa May says failure to back her deal risks “no Brexit at all”

Mrs May is bringing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – legislation required to bring her agreement into UK law – to Parliament in early June.

In an attempt to win over MPs across the House, she announced the following concessions:

  • A guarantee of a Commons vote on whether to hold another referendum on the government’s Brexit deal
  • A vote on different customs options, including a government proposal for a temporary customs union for goods – what Mrs May called a “customs compromise”
  • A legal obligation for the UK to “seek to conclude alternative arrangements” to replace the Northern Ireland backstop by the end of 2020
  • If the backstop does come into force, the bill would guarantee Northern Ireland remains aligned with the rest of the UK and remains in same customs territory
  • Legislation to ensure workers rights are “every bit as good, if not better” after Brexit – and guarantees of no dilution in environmental standards
  • A legal duty to seek changes to the political declaration on future relations with the EU

What are the Tory leadership rules?

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