Theresa May is to make a last-ditch attempt to stay in No 10 by signalling to Tory MPs that she won’t fight the next general election.
The prime minister will make the dramatic new plea at the 1922 committee of backbench MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon.
She was fighting for her political life after Conservative MPs triggered a vote of confidence in her leadership, in protest at her planned Brexit deal.
“This vote isn’t about who leads the party into the next election, it’s about whether it makes sense to change leader at this point in the Brexit negotiations,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
The PM will not offer a fixed departure date, but will make clear that her main focus is ensuring the UK quits the bloc as planned on March 29, 2019.
“She believes it is her duty to serve as long as her party wants her to,” her spokesman added. “She serves at the pleasure of the Conservative party.”
That was a clear hint that the new disquiet over her leadership means she cannot not lead the Tories into a 2022 election.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove added to ITV News that the PM should stay on “as long as she feels comfortable doing that job”. He predicted she would “win handsomely” and that a majority of one vote “is enough”.
The gamble could pay off by reassuring large numbers of sceptical Tory MPs that she will never again repeat the disastrous campaign that cost the party its majority in 2017.
Several MPs have called on May to pre-announce she won’t fight the election and allies now believe that her best hope of clinging to office is to make “delivering Brexit” her political legacy.
Earlier, May pledged to fight off the attempt to oust her from power with “everything I’ve got”.
Speaking on the steps of No.10 Downing Street, she warned her party that changing leader now could lead to Brexit being delayed or prevented and would “put our country’s future at risk”.
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.