Theresa May has pledged to fight off the attempt to oust her from power with “everything I’ve got”.
Tory MPs have triggered a vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s leadership of the party following her decision to delay the vote on her Brexit deal.
Speaking on the steps of No.10 Downing Street this morning, May warned her party that changing leader now could lead to Brexit being delayed or prevented and would “put our country’s future at risk”.
“Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division,” she said.
Bernard Jenkin, the senior Brexiteer backbencher, dismissed May’s suggestion it was too dangerous to change leader at this time.
“The UK changed prime minister in May 1940 – in the middle of a monstrously greater national crisis than this. If it has to be done, it has to be done,” he tweeted.
Calling for May to be removed from power, Owen Paterson, the Brexiteer former cabinet minister, said May’s Brexit deal was “so bad” that it was a “betrayal of clear manifesto promises”.
Several Cabinet ministers – including those seen as potential leadership candidates – have this morning come out in support of May’s leadership.
Michael Gove said he was backing the prime minister “100% and urged other Tory MPs to “do the same”.
“She is battling hard for our country and no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU,” he said.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the party’s backbench 1922 Committee, announced on Wednesday morning that the threshold of 48 MPs required to trigger a leadership contest had been reached.
To cling on to power May will need the support of more than 50% of the 315 Conservative MPs to stay in office – 158 in total.
The vote will take place between 6pm and 8pm this evening and the result will be announced later tonight.
If the PM loses the vote, she would not be able to stand in the subsequent leadership contest.
Candidates for the leadership must be nominated by two Conservative MPs. If only one candidate comes forward, he or she becomes leader.
If a number of would-be leaders are nominated, the list is whittled down to a shortlist of two in a series of votes by MPs.
The final pair then go to a postal ballot of all party members, with the
position of leader – and prime minister – going to the victor.
Ian Lavery, the chairman of the Labour Party, said May’s “weakness and failure has completely immobilised the government at this critical time for the country”.
In her defiant statement in Downing Street, May said: “I will contest that vote with everything I’ve got. I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party for over 40 years. I’ve served it as an activist, councillor, MP, shadow minister, home secretary and now as prime minister.
“I stood to be leader because I believe in the Conservative vision, for a better future, a thriving economy, with nowhere and nobody left behind. A stronger society where everyone can make the most of their talents, always serving the national interest. And at this crucial moment in our history that means securing a Brexit deal that delivers on the result of the EU referendum.
“A change of leadership in the Conservative Party now will put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it.
“A new leader wouldn’t’ be in place by the January 21 legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament.
“The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate a new withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through parliament by the 29th March so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it.”