May vows to ‘see this through’ amid furious backlash to Brexit plan

Theresa May has vowed to fight on and deliver Brexit, after one of the toughest days of her premiership saw her hit by four ministerial resignations and a wave of demands for her removal as British Prime Minister.

Dominic Raab and Esther McVey sensationally walked out of Mrs May’s Cabinet, while leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg declared he had no confidence in her leadership amid a furious backlash against her plans for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

During three hours of questioning in the House of Commons, the British PM faced Tory backbench accusations that the Brexit deal agreed by Cabinet on Wednesday was “dead on arrival” and would never survive the parliamentary vote expected next month.

Only a handful of her own MPs spoke up in favour of the plan, denounced by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a “half-baked deal” which did not meet the six tests his party had set for it to get their support.

But in a defiant press conference in 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Minister insisted she would “see this through”.

Standing before a pair of Union flags, Mrs May compared herself to her stubborn but effective cricketing hero as she told reporters: “What do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May takes a sip of water as she holds a press conference at 10 Downing Street, London, to discuss her Brexit plans (Matt Dunham/PA)
British Prime Minister Theresa May takes a sip of water as she holds a press conference at 10 Downing Street, London, to discuss her Brexit plans (Matt Dunham/PA)

Her appearance came at the end of a chaotic day in which the value of the pound plunged amid widespread doubts over whether Mrs May could deliver her deal or would even be able to cling on to power.

Mr Raab – the man chosen in July to represent Mrs May in negotiations with Brussels – quit as Brexit Secretary, warning the deal represented a “very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom” because of provisions for Northern Ireland.

And Ms McVey resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary, telling the British PM she could not defend the agreement approved by Cabinet in a stormy five-hour meeting.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, dramatically announced that he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mrs May’s leadership, declaring that her deal “has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the British Prime Minister”.

His move is expected to be matched by other ERG members, raising expectations that the tally of letters to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, may soon pass the threshold of 48 which would trigger a confidence vote.

But at a press conference in Number 10, Mrs May said: “I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke to reporters outside the Houses of Parliament (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke to reporters outside the Houses of Parliament (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She added: “Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones.

“As PM my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, that does that by ending free movement … ensuring we are not sending vast annual sums to the EU any longer, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but also protects jobs and protects people’s livelihoods, protects our security, protects the union of the United Kingdom.

“I believe this is a deal which does deliver that, which is in the national interest, and am I going to see this through? Yes.”

Two more junior ministers – Suella Braverman at the Brexit department and Shailesh Vara at Northern Ireland – also quit.

And Mrs May also lost two parliamentary private secretaries and a vice-chairman of the party.

Another Cabinet Brexiteer, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, was in Downing Street to see the British Prime Minister on Wednesday evening.

There were rumours at Westminster that Leave-supporting Michael Gove had been lined up to replace Mr Raab – but he would only agree to the job if he could renegotiate the deal.

Asked about the speculation, Mrs May said Mr Gove was “doing an excellent job” as Environment Secretary.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The developments threaten to derail the British Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy ahead of a crucial EU summit, which European Council president Donald Tusk confirmed would take place on November 25, “if nothing extraordinary happens”.

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Mr Rees-Mogg said he expected sufficient letters to be submitted to force Mrs May to fight for her position, but declined to say how soon.

If Mrs May was ousted as leader, a contest to choose a successor could be completed “not in months, but weeks”, he said.

He refused to name his preferred successor, but he identified Mr Raab, Ms McVey, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Ms Mordaunt as potential candidates.

“This is nothing to do with the ambition of Brexiteers,” he said. “It is everything to do with the ambition of Brexit for this country.”

Labour said the British Government was “falling apart before our eyes”, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Mrs May “appears to be in denial”.

“The facts haven’t changed. There is no majority in Parliament for her deal, and she has rightly conceded that ‘no Brexit’ is the real alternative to it,” said Sir Vince.

“There must now be a People’s Vote to break the deadlock and get the country out of this mess.”

In his letter to Mrs May, Mr Raab said he could not accept “an indefinite backstop arrangement” for the Irish border, included in the withdrawal agreement.

He said: “No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.”

Ms McVey, who was promoted to the Cabinet by Mrs May in January, was reported to have been close to tears as she tried to force a vote on the Brexit deal in Wednesday’s Cabinet.

In her letter to Mrs May, the Tatton MP said: “We have gone from no deal is better than a bad deal, to any deal is better than no deal.

“I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal. I could not look my constituents in the eye were I to do that.”

Update 5.35pm: Embattled Theresa May insists she will 'see this through' after Brexit resignations

Theresa May struck a defiant tone after being hit by a wave of ministerial resignations and calls for her to be ousted as Prime Minister in a backlash over her Brexit plan.

The British Prime Minister defended the blueprint thrashed out with negotiators in Brussels as she faced major challenges to her authority at home.

Dominic Raab resigned as Brexit secretary, Esther McVey quit as Work and Pensions secretary and leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no confidence in Mrs May in a bruising day for her premiership.

But at a press conference in Number 10, Mrs May said: "I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people."

She added: "Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones.

May vows to ‘see this through’ amid furious backlash to Brexit plan

"As PM my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, that does that by ending free movement, all the things I raised in my statement... ensuring we are not sending vast annual sums to the EU any longer, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but also protects jobs and protects people's livelihoods, protects our security, protects the union of the United Kingdom.

I believe this is a deal which does deliver that, which is in the national interest, and am I going to see this through? Yes.

Mr Raab and Ms McVey walked out of the Government the morning after Cabinet agreed a draft EU withdrawal agreement in a stormy five-hour meeting.

And International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, a Cabinet Brexiteer, is due to see the Prime Minister this evening, sources said.

Two more junior ministers - Suella Braverman at the Brexit department and Shailesh Vara at Northern Ireland also quit.

There were rumours at Westminster that Brexiteer Michael Gove had been lined up to replace Mr Raab - but he would only agree to the job if he could renegotiate the deal.

Asked about the speculation, Mrs May said Mr Gove was "doing an excellent job" as Environment Secretary.

PA

Earlier: Jacob Rees-Mogg submits letter of no-confidence following Brexit deal

Update 1.25pm: Jacob Rees-Mogg has handed in his letter of no-confidence to Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee.

He said Theresa May's Brexit deal "has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister".

May vows to ‘see this through’ amid furious backlash to Brexit plan

Jacob Rees-Mogg told reporters he would not run for Conservative leader.

Speaking outside Parliament, Jacob Rees-Mogg denied he was attempting a "coup" against Mrs May.

He said a coup involved using "illegitimate procedures" to remove someone from office, while he was making use of Conservative Party rules in an "entirely constitutional" way.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he was not putting himself forward as an alternative leader of the Tories.

"I am not offering my name as leader," he said.

He added: "This is nothing to do with the ambition of Brexiteers. It is everything to do with the ambition of Brexit for this country."

Discussing Mrs May's plan, he said: "This is not Brexit. It is a failure of Government policy. It needs to be rejected."

Mr Rees-Mogg declined to name his preferred candidate for leader.

But he listed Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt as potential candidates to succeed Mrs May.

Mr Rees-Mogg said that Mrs May's plan "is not Brexit" and "does not meet what we promised our voters".

Speaking outside Parliament, he denied there was a coup against Mrs May, saying: "A coup is when you use illegitimate procedures to try and overturn somebody who is in office, this is working through the procedures of the Conservative Party.

"It is therefore entirely constitutional and... coup is the wrong word."

He added: "What we need is a leader who will say to the EU 'it is impossible to divide up the UK, it is impossible to agree to a situation where we have a perpetual customs union, it's impossible to pay £39 billion of taxpayers money for a few promises which was meant to be £39 billion for an implementation of a deal, and it is impossible for us to allow the continuing jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice'.

"The problem is the negotiations have given away on all the key points."

May vows to ‘see this through’ amid furious backlash to Brexit plan

Mr Rees-Mogg said that he believed the necessary 48 letters to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister would be submitted, but declined to put a timeframe on the process.

If Mrs May was rejected by MPs, a vote to choose her successor could be conducted in "not months but weeks", he said.

Asked why he was defying calls for party unity, he said: "People always call for unity when the policy they are following is wrong. It is a standard pattern of Conservatives when they note that failure is in the air."

He said that Dominic Raab should not be blamed for the deal negotiated with Brussels, as it was clear that the process was driven by Downing Street. There was no point appointing a new Brexit Secretary, he said.

Asked about possible successors, Mr Rees-Mogg named Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey - who all quit the Government over Brexit - and Penny Mordaunt who remains International Development Secretary.

"You have streams of talent within the Conservative Party who would be very capable of leading a proper Brexit," he said.

He added: "One of the problems was having a Remainer (as leader).

"I recognise that compromises will need to be made but the difficulty with having a Remainer is that people feel the compromises are made in a Remain direction rather than a Leave direction."

Chief Whip Julian Smith has said the Prime Minister would not abandon the withdrawal agreement in the face of widespread opposition among MPs.

Leaving Downing Street, he told reporters: "The Prime Minister is moving things on in the best interests of the country.

"The Prime Minister will not be bullied and will not change course."

Mr Rees-Mogg said: "The key is, if 48 letters go in it shows there are 48 people who will not vote for this deal.

"That in itself is a pretty powerful statement."

He stressed that the European Research Group did not have a collective position on Mrs May's premiership.

Asked what his message to the Prime Minister was, he said: "The Prime Minister said at the 1922 Committee after the election that she would serve as long as the Conservative Party wanted her to serve.

"I think there are many people in the Conservative Party, not just in Parliament but in the country at large, who feel that her service now should come to an end.

"She is a very dutiful person, she has served the country to the best of her ability but she has let us down in this deal.

"It has not delivered on what she said she would do. That is the key thing - it is trust that is at the heart of it. She didn't do what she said she would."

Asked if Mrs May had lied, he said "lied is a very harsh word".

Steve Baker, a fellow European Research Group member who stood next to Mr Rees-Mogg as he gave his statement, tweeted a picture of his letter of no confidence in Theresa May, sent last month to the chairman of the 1922 Committee.

He tweeted: "My letter to Sir Graham Brady of 22 October, when the Prime Minister's article in The Sun persuaded me we could not separate the person from the policy. Sadly, the situation has only worsened in the intervening period."

Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan said Mr Rees-Mogg's intervention was "deeply destructive" for the Government and for the Conservative Party.

"If this Government is undermined further, we could destroy the Government, we could significantly damage and even destroy the Conservative Party," he told the BBC.

"This could lead us to being almost ungovernable for a bit."

    Mr Rees-Mogg's full letter says:

    "A few weeks ago, in a conversation with the Chief Whip I expressed my concern that the Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May, was losing the confidence of Conservative Members of Parliament and that it would be in the interest of the Party and the country if she were to stand aside.

    "I have wanted to avoid the disagreeable nature of a formal Vote of No Confidence with all the ill will that this risks engendering.

    "Regrettably, the draft Withdrawal Agreement presented to Parliament today has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister, either on her own account or on behalf of us all in the Conservative Party Manifesto.

    "That the Conservative and Unionist Party is proposing a Protocol which would create a different regulatory environment for an integral part of our country stands in contradistinction to our long-held principles.

    "It is in opposition to the Prime Minister's clear statements that this was something that no Prime Minister would ever do and raises questions in relation to Scotland that are open to exploitation by the Scottish National Party.

    "The 2017 Election Manifesto said that the United Kingdom would leave the Customs Union.

    "It did not qualify this statement by saying that we could stay in it via a backstop while Annex 2, Article 3 explicitly says that we would have no authority to set our own tariffs.

    "It is also harder to leave this backstop than it is to leave the EU, there is no provision equivalent to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

    "The Prime Minister also promised an implementation period which was the reason for paying £39 billion.

    "As was made clear by a House of Lords report in March 2017 there is no legal obligation to pay anything. This has now become an extended period of negotiation which is a different matter.

    "The situation as regards the European Court of Justice appears to have wandered from the clear statement that we are taking back control of our laws. Article 174 makes this clear as does Article 89 in conjunction with Article 4.

    "It is of considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place.

    "Regrettably, this is not the situation, therefore, in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures of the Conservative Party and the 1922 Committee this is a formal letter of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party, the Rt Hon Theresa May."

Meanwhile, former Brexit minister Steve Baker said: "We've tried everything to change policy but not the Prime Minister, but it has not worked. It is too late. We need a new leader."

PA

Earlier: Northern Ireland ‘sold out’ by Prime Minister in EU negotiations, MPs told

May vows to ‘see this through’ amid furious backlash to Brexit plan

Update 12.55pm: Northern Ireland has been “sold out” by the British Prime Minister and the UK’s Brexit negotiators, MPs have heard.

Theresa May was told her draft EU withdrawal agreement threatened the integrity of the UK and risked isolating Northern Ireland.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, speaking in the Commons, told Mrs May despite numerous private meetings on such issues she had not listened to concerns.

The choice is now clear, we stand up for the United Kingdom, the whole of the United Kingdom, the integrity of the United Kingdom or we vote for a vassal state

He said: “I could today stand here and take the Prime Minister through the list of promises and pledges that she made to this House and to us privately about the future of Northern Ireland and the future relationship with the EU but I fear it would be a waste of time since she clearly doesn’t listen.”

Mr Dodds congratulated the Cabinet ministers who had so far resigned over the deal, adding: “The choice is now clear, we stand up for the United Kingdom, the whole of the United Kingdom, the integrity of the United Kingdom or we vote for a vassal state.”

Labour former minister Kate Hoey later added: “Outside this House when people read these hundreds of pages of eurospeak, they will realise that in any way we are being sold out, we’ve been sold out by our negotiators who have allowed the EU to take the lead.

“Will she not accept that at this stage not only are we all being collectively sold out, but the people of Northern Ireland are being sold out absolutely?”

Mrs May responded: “I do not agree with her in relation to the suggestion that in some sense the EU Commission, the European Union has given nothing away to the UK during these negotiations, these have been tough negotiations, this is a complex matter.”

She added: “The backstop is something which neither side, neither the United Kingdom nor the European Union wish to ever see being exercised.”

- Press Association

Earlier: Huge blow for May as Esther McVey joins Dominic Raab in resigning over Brexit deal

Update 10.05am: Two Leave-backing ministers including the man in charge of the UK's withdrawal negotiations have sensationally quit the Cabinet in a massive blow to Theresa May's Brexit plans.

The UK's Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab - who only took over in the summer after David Davis resigned in protest over the Prime Minister's withdrawal strategy - said he "cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU".

Esther McVey announced she was resigning as Britain's Work and Pensions Secretary as she could not defend a deal which meant the UK "handing over control to the EU".

The pair's shock departures within little more than an hour of one another on Thursday came amid a furious backlash from Brexit-backing Tories to the deal given the collective approval of Mrs May's Cabinet in a stormy five-hour meeting at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday.

British Prime Minster Theresa May paid tribute to Dominic Raab and Esther McVey, who have resigned from her Cabinet.

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons, Ms May said: "Delivering Brexit involves difficult choices for all of us. We do not agree on all those choices, but I respect their views."

Their resignations were followed by a second Brexit minister, Suella Braverman, while Anne-Marie Trevelyan announced she was quitting as an unpaid parliamentary aide in the Department for Education.

The developments threaten to derail the Prime Minister's Brexit strategy ahead of a crucial EU summit on November 25, with just over four months to go until the UK is due to leave on March 29.

They came shortly before Mrs May was due to set out the details of the withdrawal agreement to MPs in the House of Commons, in what is expected to be a bruising clash with some of her fiercest critics.

Esther McVey
Esther McVey

Labour said the Government was "falling apart before our eyes" and the pound dropped sharply after Mr Raab's resignation.

Earlier, Shailesh Vara quit as minister of state for Northern Ireland, saying Mrs May's agreement, "leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation".

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Raab said the deal represented a "very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom" because of provisions for Northern Ireland.

He also said he could not accept "an indefinite backstop arrangement" for the Irish border.

He said: "No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement."

Ms McVey, who was promoted to the Cabinet by Mrs May in January, was reported to have been close to tears as she tried to force a vote on the Brexit deal in Wednesday's Cabinet.

In a letter to the PM, the Tatton MP cited concerns over the future of the Union and a lack of control over money, law, borders and trade policy under a deal she felt kept the UK too close to Brussels.

"The British people have always been ahead of politicians on this issue, and it will be no good trying to pretend to them that this deal honours the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone that it doesn't," wrote Ms McVey.

"We have gone from no deal is better than a bad deal, to any deal is better than no deal.

"I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal. I could not look my constituents in the eye were I to do that."

The resignations came as European Council president Donald Tusk announced an extraordinary meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on November 25, at which the withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future relations is due to be finalised and formalised.

Westminster is braced for further resignations, amid widespread expectations that the Prime Minister may face a challenge to her position from Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in her leadership.

- Press Association

Earlier: Dominic Raab resigns as UK Brexit Secretary saying he can't support withdrawal deal

Dominic Raab has sensationally quit as Brexit Secretary, in a massive blow to Theresa May's Brexit plans.

Mr Raab, who only took over in the summer after David Davis resigned in protest over the Prime Minister's withdrawal strategy, said he "cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU".

His surprise departure on Thursday came amid a furious backlash from Brexit-backing Tories to the deal agreed by UK and EU negotiators four months ahead of the UK's scheduled withdrawal on March 29.

Hours earlier Shailesh Vara had quit as minister of state for Northern Ireland, saying Mrs May's agreement, "leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation".

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Raab said the deal represented a "very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom" because of provisions for Northern Ireland.

He also said he could not accept "an indefinite backstop arrangement" for the Irish border.

He said: "No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement."

May vows to ‘see this through’ amid furious backlash to Brexit plan

He added: "Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election.

"This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust."

The resignations came as European Council president Donald Tusk announced an extraordinary meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on November 25, at which the withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future relations will be finalised and formalised.

Westminster is braced for further resignations, amid widespread expectations that the Prime Minister may face a challenge to her position from Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in her leadership.

- Press Association

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