Conservative whips are considering whether to lift the suspensions imposed on two MPs over alleged misconduct so they can take part in tonight’s no confidence vote in Theresa May.
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee of backbench Tories and who will run Wednesday evening’s proceedings, said he was “waiting for confirmation from the chief whip” on whether Charlie Elphicke and Andrew Griffiths would have their suspensions lifted.
Elphicke has been suspended from the party since November 2017 over “serious” but unspecified allegations. The Dover MP has previously said he is “completely confident I will be able to prove my innocence”.
Griffiths quit as a minister and was suspended in July after reportedly bombarding a 28-year-old constituent and her friend with 2,000 lewd messages over social media during a three-week period. He is now seeking professional help.
Both have had the Conservative party whip withdrawn and have been voting as ‘independent’ MPs.
At a Westminster briefing, Sir Graham told reporters May would need to win the support of 50% of Conservative MPs, plus one, in order to remain prime minister.
But he was unable to confirm the mooted winning figure of 158 MPs, given the suspensions of Elphicke and Griffiths.
“I’m waiting for confirmation from the chief whip because it depends on whether either or both of the two colleagues who have had the whip suspended for a period were to have it restored or not,” he said.
Asked if the pair could have their suspensions lifted, he went on: “Of course that could happen, I’m not saying it will happen, it could happen.
“I would need to know the final electoral roll before we open the ballot.”
Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler said: ”“It would be a betrayal of women for the Tories to let MPs who are suspended for sexual harassment back into their party just to allow them a vote in the leadership challenge.”
Further complicating matters is the fact that the verdict in the expenses trial of Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay is due on Wednesday.
Mackinlay, who represents South Thanet, allegedly failed to declare money spent in his 2015 election campaign against then-Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.
Given International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told BBC Politics Live the PM only needs to “win by one”, the outcomes of all three cases could prove vital.
As 1922 chairman, Sir Graham is in charge of running leadership elections.
He revealed it became “clear” to him yesterday that the threshold of 48 MPs’ letters of no confidence in May had been passed after a “fluid” few weeks., in which letters were withdrawn as well as submitted.
He telephoned the prime minister at 9.30pm last night after she returned to the UK from meetings in Europe with EU leaders as part of her efforts to win fresh Brexit concessions, and May made clear she wanted a quick contest.
“During the course of yesterday it reached a point where it was clear the threshold had been passed,” Sir Graham said.
“There was an element of traffic in both directions but there was a point which showed it was clear.”
He went on: “The prime minister was keen to move forward as quickly as we could and resolve matters.
“And I guess conscious of the fact that continuing speculation is not terribly helpful any more than the fact of having a vote announced and held.
“There could have been a conversation about whether it would be sensible to delay until she was back from Brussels on Thursday, there wasn’t that conversation, the conversation was that it was her desire to resolve things promptly and that seemed to me to be entirely in keeping with what the rules sought.”
Tory MPs will take part in a secret ballot between 6pm and 8pm on Wednesday, with May’s fate expected to be announced at about 9pm.