Brexit: Theresa May braced for more cabinet resignations after day of chaos leaves deal facing Commons defeat

Michael Gove considers whether to quit, after apparently refusing to take the job of Brexit secretary when prime minister rejects his demands

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 15 November 2018 21:33 GMT
Theresa May's press conference statement in full following cabinet resignations

Theresa May is braced for further cabinet resignations that would spark a challenge to her premiership, after a day of drama that left her Brexit strategy on the verge of collapse.

Michael Gove was considering whether to quit, after apparently refusing to take the job of Brexit secretary – dramatically vacated by Dominic Raab – when the prime minister rejected his demands.

The environment secretary is believed to have called for Ms May’s draft agreement to be ripped up and renegotiated, and for the cancellation of the 25 November summit with the EU which is intended to seal the deal.

Mr Gove left a meeting with the prime minister without an appointment being made – with Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, also thought to be still considering quitting.

A defiant Ms May staged a press conference at which she vowed to fight any vote of no confidence in her, saying: “Am I going to see this through? Yes.”

Likening herself to the famously stubborn England batsman Geoffrey Boycott, her cricketing hero, she told reporters: “What do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”

Earlier, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading Tory Brexiteer, announced he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister – creating an expectation that the trigger point of 48 letters would be reached.

However, the threshold was not breached, putting off a vote of no confidence by all 314 other Conservative MPs until Monday at the earliest.

Although Ms May is still expected to win such a contest, a large number of Tories rejecting her leadership – perhaps 100 – might still damage her fatally.

His position was rocked by seven resignations, with Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, quickly following Mr Raab out of the cabinet. Two junior ministers, two unpaid aides and a trade envoy also quit.

The resignation of Mr Gove – who backed the draft deal in Wednesday’s cabinet meeting – would almost certainly prompt sufficient letters to trigger the no-confidence vote.

Even without that challenge, Ms May’s hopes of success for the agreement appeared dead in the water after it was torn apart by all sides in the Commons chamber.

The pound plummeted losing 1.8 per cent of its value against the US dollar at 1.276 and falling 1.8 per cent to 1.127 euros.

When further resignations failed to materialise quickly, cabinet sources told The Independent other Brexiteers had been disappointed Mr Raab and Ms McVey had quit when they had.

One insider said: “Of course they respect their decision. But if you take the view that there might still be some opportunity to turn the dial, or even just get some clarity on things which are unclear, then it is too early to go.

“That point will come around the time the vote comes, but it’s not there yet.”

Mr Raab is said to have informed chief whip Julian Smith that he would quit after Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting.

Ms Mordaunt had a meeting with the prime minister herself, leaving in her ministerial car, scotching suggestions that she would resign in the immediate wake of the other walkouts.

Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, went to see her senior officials to talk through the fine detail of the withdrawal agreement – and announced she was staying.

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