A senior Downing Street source told The Mail on Sunday last night that even Mrs May’s Chief Whip, Julian Smith, had advised her to set out her departure plans, with Environment Secretary Mr Gove emerging as the ‘consensus choice’ to succeed her.
Mr Gove is being championed by Cabinet Brexiteers who are furious about what they see as an attempted ‘coup’ by Remain-backing David Lidington, Mrs May’s de facto deputy.
Last night Henry Newman, one of Michael Gove’s most loyal supporters and a former aide, said the Prime Minister’s ‘ill-judged’ speech blaming MPs for the Brexit crisis ‘united Labour and Tory critics against her’
A senior Government source said yesterday that there was now ‘complete unanimity’ in the Cabinet that Mrs May should step down as soon as possible.
In a number of astonishing, fast-moving developments, coming just days before a series of historic Commons votes:
- No 10 warned Tory rebels that, if they didn’t back Mrs May’s deal, the Commons could revoke Article 50, effectively cancelling Brexit;
- Mrs May mounted a last-ditch effort to save the deal by pleading with Jacob Rees-Mogg to drop his opposition – as his European Research Group made plans to select their preferred leadership candidate;
- A tearful Tory whip accused Mrs May of ‘betraying Brexit’ and ‘destroying our party’;
- Boris Johnson demanded to the Prime Minister’s face that she rule out leading the party into an Election, while her aides wargamed what would happen if Mrs May went to the country if the Commons rejected her Brexit deal again;
- No 10 scheduled the crunch votes for Wednesday and Thursday, with MPs voting on Mrs May’s deal and alternative options such as membership of a customs union;
- Chancellor Philip Hammond refused demands by Cabinet colleagues to ‘wield the knife’ and tell the Prime Minister that she had to resign;
- Tory MP Nigel Evans said that, if Mrs May agreed to resign, then the party’s Brexiteers would support her deal;
- Central London was brought to a standstill as anti-Brexit protesters staged a major march calling for another EU referendum.
The Cabinet’s move against Mrs May comes after a disastrous week in which she blamed MPs for the delay to Brexit in a live televised address, which left Mr Smith incandescent with rage. She was then humiliated by EU leaders at a summit which agreed that, if her deal is defeated again, then Parliament will have just two more weeks to find an alternative, or risk a no-deal Brexit on April 12.
A senior Government source said yesterday that there was now ‘complete unanimity’ in the Cabinet that Prime Minister Theresa May should step down as soon as possible
A senior Government source said Mr Smith had ‘conveyed the message [that Mrs May’s Cabinet colleagues believe she should stand down] to the PM’.
A Downing Street spokesman said that they did not comment on private conversations.
The collapse in the Prime Minister’s authority has triggered rival Cabinet plots by Remainers and Brexiteers to seize power.
Pro-Remain Cabinet Ministers, led by Mr Hammond and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, have been backing Cabinet Office Minister Mr Lidington to take over as temporary Prime Minister.
But when pro-Brexit Cabinet Ministers, led by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, found out that Mr Lidington was holding talks with Labour MPs about votes on ‘soft’ Brexit measures they moved quickly to stifle the plot by backing Mr Gove instead.
Under the plan, Mr Gove would see through Brexit as PM, before a full leadership contest in the summer.
One senior Cabinet Minister told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The public will never forgive us if in a time of historical crisis our answer is David Lidington. This is where it is going to get very scary, whatever you think about it’.
Last night Henry Newman, one of Michael Gove’s most loyal supporters and a former aide, said the Prime Minister’s ‘ill-judged’ speech blaming MPs for the Brexit crisis ‘united Labour and Tory critics against her’. He added: ‘ I think she will have to offer to step down to get her deal through.’
A series of so-called ‘indicative votes’ will be held next week to test which alternatives to Mrs May’s deal are likely to pass the Commons, including a Norway-style customs union or even cancelling Brexit.
One senior Minister warned rebel Tory MPs that, if they continued to vote down Mrs May’s deal, then they would be on ‘a conveyor belt to Norway – possibly with Jeremy Corbyn leading the way’.
The Minister added: ‘If we do not deliver Brexit we are so unbelievably f****d, not just as a party or a Government, but in a national way. Now is the time to be bold, a customs union is a cop-out – it’s the easiest solution for Parliament but the worst solution for the country.
‘It has to be Mrs May’s deal, or no deal. We cannot be allowed to drift into the worst position, but that is what David Lidington is manoeuvring us to – and there is no upside to it’.
Another Minister said that it was ‘a matter of arithmetic’ that Mrs May should set out her departure date: ‘Just look at the numbers of people saying they would back the deal if she sets out a timetable for her departure and add them up. Say no more.’
A series of senior Conservative figures warned Mrs May last week that she has lost the confidence of her party.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee, visited the Prime Minister on Monday, where he told her that the number of colleagues calling for her to go was growing.
Mr Johnson also repeatedly challenged Mrs May to rule out leading the party into a General Election this year – which she has refused to do.
It is understood that all but one member of the Tory whips office think that her ‘time is up’. One, Paul Maynard, was in tears recently when he told the Prime Minister: ‘I’ve heard enough. When I was told that we would have to come over and talk to you I began to cry. I said I don’t want to go over and talk to that woman any more. She’s betrayed Brexit, destroying our party. I want her gone.’
Mrs May replied: ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi warned yesterday of a ‘political meltdown’ if Mrs May’s deal is rejected again.