As markets and companies watched nervously, a defiant Theresa May said she would contest a leadership challenge on Wednesday evening “with everything I have got” after the number of rebel Conservative MPs reached the threshold of 48.
The rebels shot their letters of no-confidence to the party’s 1922 committee, which organises leadership contests.
Voting was scheduled for 6 pm local time and the results would be declared soon after voting ends at 8 pm.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after the leadership challenge was triggered on Wednesday morning, May insisted she was ready to face it.
“I will contest that vote with everything I have got,” she said, adding that removing her will not change anything.
If May loses, she will resign as the prime minister, a post she took over after David Cameron quit in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum, and retained after the 2017 midterm elections, heading a minority government.
Questions were raised about the future of the Brexit process, now nearing the March 29, 2019 deadline. The British Chamber of Commerce said several companies were closely watching the developments in Westminster with “utter dismay”.
May needs the support of more than 50% of the 315 Conservative MPs to stay in office, which comes to at least 158.
During the day, more than 150 party MPs expressed support for May, insisting that the UK didn’t need such a distraction with the date of Brexit drawing near.
May put up a brave front at the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons at noon, taking on her critics and informing them that talks were on to improve the controversial withdrawal agreement, particularly on the backstop on Northern Ireland.
Chancellor Philip Hammond said, “I’m very clear that the prime minister will have the support of the great majority of parliamentary colleagues. And I think what this vote today will do is flush out the extremists who are trying to advance a particular agenda which would really not be in the interests of the British people or the British economy.”
Environment secretary Michael Gove added, “I think the PM will win tonight and she will win handsomely. I regret that a leadership contest has been triggered, but I respect my colleagues. I know that everyone’s made their decision after careful thought.”
May’s aides suggested she could step down before the next general election, if her party MPs desire, but is keen to see through the Brexit process.
Prospective leadership contenders are former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, home secretary Sajid Javid, and international development secretary Penny Mordaunt.
First Published: Dec 13, 2018 00:38 IST
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