Theresa May’s new look cabinet has met for the first time after a string of resignations over her Brexit strategy left her government in crisis.
Mrs May was forced to reshuffle her top team after David Davis and Boris Johnson both quit. Mr Davis, who has been leading Brexit negotiations for the UK so far, said he did not agree with the prime minister’s proposals, so was the wrong person to be going into negotiations with them.
Mr Johnson however accused Mrs May of pursuing a “semi-Brexit” where in his resignation letter said the Brexit “dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt”.The prime minister has warned the Tory party it must unite or face the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in power. Jeremy Hunt, who has replaced Johnson as foreign secretary, said he would be “four square” behind her.
On Monday evening, the prime minister faced down backbench critics at a meeting of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, amid rumours they were close to getting the 48 signatures needed to trigger a no-confidence vote that could spark a leadership election.
She told her critics the alternative to the party coming together could be a left-wing Labour administration, with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.
The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith said that while Brexiteers were still unhappy with the Chequers plan, their focus was on getting that changed, not on ousting Mrs May. “Her position is extraordinarily fragile and vulnerable, but it is far from game over.”
- Under Conservative Party rules, a leadership contest is triggered either if the leader resigns or if 15% of all Tory MPs (currently 48) write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, triggering a vote of no confidence by MPs
- If Mrs May lost such a vote, a leadership election would be triggered and she would be unable to stand as a candidate
- But if she won, she would be immune from motions of confidence for a year
- To enter the contest, a candidate needs to be nominated by 15% of MPs
- MPs then vote in successive ballots – with the candidate with the lowest number of votes eliminated in each round – until two candidates remain
- Finally, Tory members vote for which candidate they want (unless there’s just one, in which case they become leader)
The UK and the EU have been negotiating Brexit terms for more than a year now and have been hoping to agree broad aims for their future relationship in October.
The aim of the Chequers away day had been to agree the UK position – after two years of discussion – but the resignations have put a question mark over that. The uncertainty in the UK comes before the plan is officially put to the EU, who may well be unhappy with aspects of it.
One other element of Friday’s agreement worth noting is that it pledged to speed up preparations for the UK to be ready to leave the EU without a Brexit deal in March next year.