Brexit latest: Theresa May says she's staying after wave of resignations leaves her teetering on the brink

A defiant Theresa May has stared down Brexiteer attempts to oust her and called for the country to unite as she fights for her political life in the face of increasingly unlikely odds.

The PM has been hit by a wave of resignations and open rebellion among senior Tory MPs today, leaving her administration on the brink of imploding and her plan to leave the EU in tatters.

In a tense speech from inside Downing Street – given after numerous letters of no-confidence in her were submitted – Mrs May said: ‘I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people.

Theresa May has vowed to see Brexit plan through on day of turmoil (AP)
Theresa May has vowed to see Brexit plan through on day of turmoil (AP)

‘From the very beginning I have known what I wanted to deliver for the British people to honour their vote in the referendum.’

The PM’s resilience in the face of widespread condemnation was marked, with her voice quivering as she began to speak. ‘Serving in high office is an honour and privilege. It is also a heavy responsibility – that is true at any time but especially when the stakes are so high.’

Her comments came after a chaotic day that had looked set to end more decidedly than it has.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey – both Brexiteers – resigned on Thursday morning just hours after Mrs May secured Cabinet backing for her Brexit deal in a fiery meeting. Two junior ministers have also quit today along with two ministerial aides and the party’s vice-chairman Rehman Chishti.

Significantly, the first concrete moves designed to topple the PM have also got under way as Jacob Rees-Mogg became one of many Tory MPs to submit a letter of no-confidence, bringing the prospect of a leadership challenge within touching distance. Forty-eight letters are needed to trigger a contest.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the country could have a new leader within weeks. Asked about possible successors, he named Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt.

During a defiant address to MPs on Thursday morning in the face of increasing adversity Mrs May said her draft deal was the only viable option, saying it was ‘this deal, no deal, or no Brexit at all’.

But by then her plans had already begun to unravel dramatically with Mr Raab becoming the first high-profile Cabinet minister to quit.


EU’s Tusk says bloc is ‘prepared’ for Brexit to be cancelled
Pound plunges after Brexit minister resigns
This insane chart shows just how much there’s still to do on Brexit
Irish government criticised for ‘self-congratulations’ on Brexit deal

Ms McVey resigned at 10am, saying ‘I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal.’ Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara have also gone.

Theresa May put in a stubborn performance in the House of Commons. (PA)
Theresa May put in a stubborn performance in the House of Commons. (PA)
<em>Esther McVey became the second high-profile resignation (Getty)</em>
Esther McVey became the second high-profile resignation (Getty)

One bookmaker has now stopped taking bets on Theresa May’s exit date. A BetFred spokesperson said: ‘We see her position as untenable and a wave of support for her to leave this year has forced us to close the market.’

Of those still in position, Penny Mordaunt and Michael Gove are those most likely to make a move next. Mr Gove has reportedly been offered the role of Brexit Secretary but is thought to have said he will only accept it if he can scrap Mrs May’s current draft deal.

May’s uphill battle

The Prime Minister came under fire from all angles during tense exchanges with MPs from all parties in the House of Commons.

There was widespread laughter as she said that it would allow the UK to leave ‘in a smooth and orderly way’ on March 29. ‘It takes back control of our borders, laws and money. It protects jobs, security and the integrity of the United Kingdom, and it delivers in ways that many said could simply not be done,’ she said.

However, when pressed whether she would put a second referendum back on the table, Mrs May said that wasn’t an option. She also insisted that Article 50 will not be extended.

Jacob Rees-Moog tore into Mrs May’s Brexit plan in the Commons, listing the broken promises contained within the agreement. He threatened to ‘write to Graham Brady’, the chair of the 1922 committee, who received the letters of no confidence in the PM.

Jeremy Corbyn condemned her ‘half-baked deal’. ‘The Government is in chaos. Their deal risks leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say,’ he said.

Notwithstanding the ministerial resignations that have already taken place, Mrs May faces a battle to get it through Parliament as pro-Leave Conservative MPs and some Remainers have lined up to condemn the plan.

<em>Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote to all Tory MPs urging them to vote against the deal (Getty)</em>
Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote to all Tory MPs urging them to vote against the deal (Getty)

Chief Whip Julian Smith has said he is confident the Government will get the support of Parliament for the deal.

But with the DUP – whose 10 MPs prop up Mrs May in the Commons – voicing their unhappiness at the agreement, and the prospect of a significant Tory backbench revolt it is hard to see how ministers can make the numbers add up.

The DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds tore into Mrs May. He told MPs: ‘I could today stand here and take the Prime Minister through the list of promises and pledges she made to this house and to us, privately, about the future of Northern Ireland in the future relationship with the EU.

‘But I fear it would be a waste of time since she clearly doesn’t listen.’

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the draft Brexit agreement is a ‘miserable failure of negotiation’ and that Labour will vote against it.

He said: ‘This is now an incredibly serious situation. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal has fallen at the first hurdle.’

Brussels reacts

As Tory MPs began their maneouvres in London, in Brussels the EU fought against British critics of the draft Brexit deal, insisting it is the best deal anyone can offer.

Senior figures from the European Commission and parliament weighed in behind the PM’s efforts to sell the deal to sceptics from both sides of the Brexit debate.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, European Council President Donald Tusk. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, European Council President Donald Tusk. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

European Council president Donald Tusk also appeared to express the hope that Brexit could still be averted. ‘The EU is prepared for a final deal with the United Kingdom in November,” he told a news conference in Brussels. ‘We are also prepared for a no-deal scenario but of course we are best prepared for a no-Brexit scenario.’

Raab and McVey lead the pack

Tweeting his letter of resignation, Mr Raab said Mrs May’s deal posed a ‘threat to the integrity of the UK’.

He wrote: ‘The regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Dominic Raab was the first high-profile minister to go. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Dominic Raab was the first high-profile minister to go. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

‘I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit. No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime… nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.’

Explaining his resignation Mr Raab said he believed Mrs May should stay on as Prime Minister but change course over Brexit.

‘I have been fighting for a good Brexit deal but the terms proposed to the Cabinet yesterday had two major and fatal flaws,’ he said. ‘The first is that the terms being offered by the EU threaten the integrity of the UK. The second is that they would lead to an indefinite, if not permanent, situation where we are locked into a regime with no say over the rules and the laws being applied, with no exit mechanism.’

Ms McVey said in her resignation letter: ‘The British people have always been ahead of politicians on this issue, and it will be no good trying to pretend to them that this deal honours the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone that it doesn’t.

‘We have gone from no deal is better than a bad deal, to any deal is better than no deal.’


Where do Theresa May’s ministers stand on Brexit?
Post-Brexit trip to Europe? Try these non-EU alternatives
Bank of England governor ‘confident’ about UK banks’ Brexit readiness
Don’t be fooled – the biggest battle over Brexit starts now
Hard Brexit ‘could cripple UK science’ warn Nobel Prize winners