LONDON — Theresa May’s premiership hangs in the balance with senior ministers and aides now plotting to force her to quit as prime minister as early as this week, according to multiple reports.
The prime minister will on Tuesday suffer what is expected to be another historic defeat on her Brexit deal after the EU refused to offer a significant renegotiation of the agreement they reached with May last November.
Ahead of that vote, senior aides now believe she must offer to stand down as prime minister in order to persuade her party to back the deal.
Conservative Brexiteers have previously signaled that they could be persuaded to back a Brexit deal if talks on Britain’s future relationship with the EU were led by a Brexiteer prime minister.
May, who backed the Remain campaign in 2016, has lost the trust of many Brexiteers in her party.
Senior ministers have already held private talks about forcing May out according to the Sunday Times, with her “Praetorian Guard” believing she should offer to stand down soon in order to persuade Brexiteers in her party to back her deal, according to the Mail on Sunday.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson are all “ready to launch immediate leadership bids,” according to the paper.
The reports come ahead of a potentially explosive week in British politics in which:
- MPs will vote for a second time on May’s Brexit deal after it was defeated by a 230 vote margin in January.
- If defeated, the prime minister will then hold a series of parliamentary votes on whether to delay Brexit or leave without a deal.
- May could then be forced to seek an extension to the Brexit negotiation process which is currently due to end at the end of March.
- MPs will then rapidly seek to take control of the Brexit process with attempts to force May into a softer Brexit or a second referendum.
The former education secretary, Nicky Morgan, told Business Insider this week that the process of selecting a successor to May, who became prime minister less than three years ago, should begin by the end of the year, with talk about her possible departure dominating discussions among Conservative MPs.
However, the prime minister is reluctant to stand down before she has secured a legacy beyond Brexit and there is no formal way for her party to force her out before the end of this year at the earliest.
Under Conservative party rules there can be no further vote of no confidence in her leadership until 12 months after the last one was held last December.
The restriction has led to speculation in today’s papers that Conservative MPs could back an opposition vote of no confidence in May. However, doing so would risk a general election which most in the party are strongly opposed to.