May’s day of disaster: JACK DOYLE on how, hour by awful hour, the PM’s power vanished as even loyal Tories turned viciously on her
If Theresa May’s ‘New Deal’ on Brexit wasn’t dead on arrival on Tuesday night, by yesterday morning Westminster was already reading it the last rites.
The morning’s newspaper headlines were bleak, as Tory MPs reacted with undisguised fury to the Prime Minister’s offer to Labour of a vote on a second referendum, as well as concessions on a customs union and employment rights.
And the count of those declaring their intention to vote against the Withdrawal Bill was ticking up.
By 9am it stood at 65 – more than double the number who voted against Mrs May’s deal last time. And as the hours passed the numbers continued to rise.
Theresa May is pictured shouting across the dispatch box today while her cabinet colleagues Philip Hammond and David Lidington talk amongst themselves
On the Today programme, Michael Gove refused to say when the Bill would come before the House, instead saying ministers would ‘reflect over the next few days’ on timing.
But privately, Cabinet ministers accepted it was all over. By mid-morning, one Cabinet source had already told the Mail: ‘Everyone knows her time is up. She’ll try to get through today.
‘They need to work out where they are from here, which is nowhere.’
Not everyone in No 10 had got the message. Downing Street Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell invited Labour MPs to a meeting in the Commons with the intention of urging them to back the Bill.
With the Tory vote collapsing, he needed around 70 Labour votes. Just 12 MPs even bothered to turn up.
At Prime Ministers’ Questions in the Commons, Mrs May did her best, as Jeremy Corbyn taunted her that she had presented a ‘repackaged version of her three times rejected deal’.
The only sign she was resigned to her fate was when she acknowledged: ‘In time, another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box.’
At Prime Ministers’ Questions in the Commons, the only sign Mrs May was resigned to her fate was when she acknowledged: ‘In time, another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box.’
Loyalists cheered her, but there were few of them: the Tory benches were a sea of green leather.
One who was present was Mark Francois, arch-critic of Mrs May and vice chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs.
At one point he gestured to the press gallery above the Speaker’s Chair where journalists sit and, like a pantomime villain, pulled his finger across his throat like a knife. The message was clear.
Senior ministers were also conspicuously absent from the chamber, but behind the scenes they were venting their fury – triggering a dramatic few hours that would effectively seal the Prime Minister’s fate.
Attendance at the so-called ‘Pizza Club’ meeting of Tory Brexiteers, hosted by Andrea Leadsom in her Commons office, was higher than usual and included Michael Gove, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
Among some ministers, particularly Home Secretary Sajid Javid, there was particular unhappiness about Mrs May’s statement on Tuesday.
Andrea Leadsom (pictured) quit early in the evening with a vicious swipe at Remainer ministers, writes Jack Doyle
Allies claim he believed the vote on a second referendum was going to be taken out of the Bill entirely following a backlash at Cabinet.
This was furiously denied by No 10. One source said: ‘they knew exactly what they signed up to’.
At around 2pm, officials in Mr Javid’s private office asked for a meeting with the PM, to ask her expressly to remove the second referendum clauses. No response was received by the end of the day.
One ally accused Mrs May of being ‘unbelievably tone deaf’.
‘If this was designed to bring Labour votes, at what point from when she made the statement is there any indication that those numbers are going to come?’
‘We are tearing the party apart for no reason, because there aren’t the Labour MPs to vote this through’.
Jeremy Hunt, similarly, was requesting a meeting with Mrs May to express his grave reservations about the Bill. His meeting with Mrs May was arranged, and then cancelled.
But the most agitated minister of all was softly spoken Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who was described as being ‘at the end of his tether’.
At 6pm, with Mrs May having said nothing, Sir Graham Brady (pictured) announced that the executive committee – the men in grey suits – had decided against changing the leadership rules to allow Mrs May’s removal. There was uproar, writes Jack Doyle
North of the Border, promising a second referendum, or even giving MPs a vote on one, is rocket fuel for the Scottish Nationalists.
The WhatsApp group for Leave-supporting ministers was pinging with messages about how they should act.
After agreeing there was no point resigning alone, four junior ministers went to see Tory chief Whip Julian Smith to tell him they wouldn’t vote for the Bill at second reading.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of ministers were going into the Cabinet Office where they could read the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
Many blanched when reaching Article 36 which sets out how the Bill could not be approved unless the House had voted on whether to have a second referendum. Or the section on customs. The feedback from the room was grim.
One senior source said: ‘They were looking at it written down they were seeing it all in black and white – customs union, second referendum. One after another they were refusing to sign it off. It was all over by mid-afternoon.’
Mrs Leadsom ordered that a copy of the Bill be brought to her office where she could read it in peace and make her mind up about what to do.
Michael Gove (left) hinted that the vote on Mrs May’s deal could still be shelved and had warm words for leadership favourite Boris Johnson (right)
She quit early in the evening with a vicious swipe at Remainer ministers. Several MPs went public to demand Mrs May should go, including Tom Tughendhat, previously a loyalist.
He told the FT: ‘There comes a time when everyone can see that the hill is too high for the hiker.’
At one point, a news channel was put on standby to go into No10 and record a statement. Clearly, she or her allies were preparing for her to walk yesterday.
Wisely this idea was abandoned, as aides instead worked out a plan for a more dignified departure after the European Elections.
MPs standing in the baking hot committee corridor of the Palace of Westminster, waiting for the meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers to begin, knew none of this. To them it looked like she was clinging on.
When they finally got in to Room 14 just after 5pm, Sir Graham Brady – the committee chairman – told them the meeting was postponed while he agreed to meet the chief whip, Julian Smith.
Key Brexiteers were glaringly absent from PMQs today amid claims ‘secret meetings’ are taking place to oust Mrs May
At 6pm, with Mrs May having said nothing, Sir Graham announced that the executive committee – the men in grey suits – had decided against changing the leadership rules to allow Mrs May’s removal. There was uproar.
One MP, Mark Pritchard, marched from the room muttering ‘Jellyfish’ at the MPs who had been too spineless to move against her.
ERG shop steward Steve Baker, who lead the failed coup attempt to remove Mrs May last year, admitted MPs were now ‘rather impatient’ to see her go.
Instead of her head, all they had was a promise from Mrs May to meet Sir Graham on Friday. She wanted, they were told, a chance to campaign in the euros.
One MP accused Sir Graham of ‘going native’ by refusing to move against her.
Diehard Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen asked ‘what is going to change on Friday’? Sir Graham refused to answer.
For several hours last night, MPs believed Mrs May was bunkered down in No10, clinging on and refusing to meet any of her ministers, despite a number apparently demanding to see her.
Mrs May did her best, as Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) taunted her that she had presented a ‘repackaged version of her three times rejected deal’, writes Jack Doyle
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith claimed ‘the sofa is up against the door, she’s not leaving’.
Last night plotting continued about how to remove her if she refuses to go. But they will not have to wait long.
Privately, Mrs May’s most senior aides were clear the decision had been made and she would go on Friday.
One said: ‘We completely understand what has happened over the course of the last 24 hours.
‘She wants to be able to say it in her own words, which she will do in short order. You will see that clearly when the elections are done.’
Another said: ‘There was a significant chance the Bill would be rejected but that was the only chance she had. There were no other moves to make. I don’t think anyone could point to any moves we could have made. We tried them all.
‘She really wanted to get it over the line. Clearly it didn’t work.’
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