Theresa May pulls Brexit Bill from Commons as pressure for her to quit intensifies

Theresa May is to meet with UK Cabinet colleagues to discuss her heavily-criticised Brexit legislation as speculation mounted that she is on the verge of quitting.

The British Prime Minister was understood to be holding talks with senior ministers today as the key Bill was pulled from the Commons schedule.

Downing Street had insisted the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) would go before UK MPs in the week beginning June 3, but it was not announced when the British Government set out the forthcoming Commons agenda today.

Yesterday, Downing Street had said the WAB would be published on Friday and debated by MPs in the first week of June.

But Government whip Mark Spencer, outlining forthcoming business in the Commons today, said: “We will update the House on the publication and introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on our return from the Whitsun recess.”

He later told MPs: “We do intend to publish the Withdrawal Agreement Bill the week commencing the 3rd of June.”

Number 10 announced it had appointed Mel Stride, a Remainer, as Commons Leader following the dramatic resignation of Andrea Leadsom on Wednesday night – who stormed out of Government in protest at Mrs May’s Brexit stance.

New Commons Leader Mel Stride
New Commons Leader Mel Stride

Mr Spencer was deputising at business questions following the resignation of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, who stormed out of Government in protest at Mrs May’s Brexit stance.

Asked if it was time for Prime Minister Theresa May to resign, Andrea Leadsom told reporters on Thursday: “Well, that’s a matter for her.

“But, for me, I felt I couldn’t in all conscience stand up and deliver the business statement today with the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in it that I couldn’t support elements of.

“So, I have no doubts that I made the right decision and, of course, it’s for the Prime Minister to decide what’s right for her and for the country.”

Mrs May’s fate as Britain's Prime Minister looks set to be sealed on Friday when she meets Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs.

Demands from Tory MPs for her to resign are continuing to surge following Cabinet turmoil over her Brexit strategy.

Ahead of the PM’s showdown meeting with Mr Brady, 1922 Committee treasurer Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told the Press Association today: “I want her to give a timetable for when she will go.

“I think this blank denial from Number 10 today may be a smokescreen because she does not want to influence the outcome of the European elections.

“Maybe she will still quit tomorrow.”

Asked what would happen if the PM did not announce a resignation date, Mr Clifton-Brown said: “I think there will be overwhelming pressure for the 22 to change the rules and hold a ballot on confidence in the Prime Minister.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has requested a meeting with Mrs May today but refused to say what would be discussed, insisted she would still be PM when US President Donald Trump makes a state visit to the UK from June 3.

David Evennett is the latest Conservative to demand Mrs May’s resignation.

Previously viewed as a loyalist, the Bexleyheath and Crayford MP used European Parliament election day to insist Mrs May must go.

He tweeted: “Theresa May must now resign. We need a new PM a new Cabinet and a new approach to Brexit.”

Mrs May has previously agreed to set out the timetable for the contest to replace her after a vote on her latest Brexit deal.

But that deadline appears to have been brought forward with the announcement she will meet Mr Brady the day after the EU vote in which the Tories are widely expected to be hammered by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Brady told reporters: “I will be meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday following her campaigning in the European elections… and following that meeting I will be consulting with the 1922 executive.”

The 1922 Committee’s executive had been expected to consider a rule change to allow another attempt to force Mrs May out.

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

Reports suggest the committee’s executive took a secret ballot on bringing a confidence vote forward, and could release the results if Mrs May fails to set a firm exit date on Friday.

The Cabinet turmoil intensified after Mrs Leadsom said she resigned with a “heavy heart”, adding she no longer believed the Government’s approach would deliver on the referendum result to leave the European Union.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The PM, writing in reply, disagreed with the ex-minister’s assessment, but said she was sorry to lose someone of Mrs Leadsom’s “passion, drive and sincerity”.

Mrs May said: “I do not agree with you that the deal which we have negotiated with the European Union means that the United Kingdom will not become a sovereign country.”

She agreed a second referendum would be divisive, but said the Government was not proposing to hold one.

Mrs Leadsom acknowledged her resignation came on the eve of the European elections, but said she felt she could not announce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in Thursday’s Business Statement containing “new elements that I fundamentally oppose”.

She wrote in a letter to the PM: “I fully respect the integrity, resolution and determination that you have shown during your time as Prime Minister.

“No-one has wanted you to succeed more than I have, but I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this Government and our party.”

There was no sign of Mrs Leadsom outside her Westminster home on Thursday morning.

Her husband Ben Leadsom stopped on his bicycle to tell reporters: “It was a tough day yesterday, but she’s happy she made the right decision.”

He said he could not comment when asked if the MP for South Northamptonshire would run for leader of the Conservative Party.

- Press Association

More on this topic

Readers’ haven provides books for tourists and locals in Dingle

One of the world’s oldest captive Borneo orangutans celebrates 50th birthday

Work under way to restore power after Argentina and Uruguay hit by major failure

Hong Kong government apologises after mass protests

More in this Section

Tory contenders won’t stand aside for Boris Johnson

Hong Kong set for street march as protester death mourned

Oil tanker’s crew land in Dubai after Gulf of Oman attack

Jeremy Corbyn accused of ‘virulent anti-Americanism’ over Iran threat


Lifestyle

There’s no fallback on Everest, so what drives climbers to the challenge?

Want to make the most of an urban garden space? Here are seven ideas

More From The Irish Examiner