Theresa May could be ousted from No 10 within days after her Cabinet plotted to replace her with Michael Gove as a caretaker Prime Minister.
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.
‘It’s a f****** coup’: Cabinet war over plot to replace Theresa May with her No 2 leaves Michael Gove favourite to be caretaker Prime Minister
By Glen Owen and Harry Cole for The Mail on Sunday
After a torturous 14 hours at the EU Council, the Prime Minister returned to the British residency in Brussels in the early hours of Friday morning and demanded a large whisky.
But back in Westminster, her closest Cabinet colleagues were preparing to hand Theresa May a revolver to go with it.
Senior Cabinet Ministers and allies are privately urging Mrs May to set a departure date to help get her beleaguered Brexit deal over the line as ‘a matter of arithmetic’.
Michael Gove (right) has emerged as a ‘consensus’ candidate who could bring the crucial backing of both Remainers and Brexiteers, and act as a caretaker Prime Minister should a plot to force Mrs May (left) from office go ahead
Cabinet sources have told The Mail on Sunday that Mr Lidington was initially ‘reluctant’ to step into the role of ‘caretaker’ but was told it would be a ‘four-month job’ with a strict mandate
But others have simply decided her time is up and have spent the last three days plotting how to oust her.
A senior Downing Street source told this newspaper: ‘Discussions about the Prime Minister’s future are ongoing.’
On Friday evening, David Lidington, the pro-EU Cabinet Office boss and de facto deputy PM, was said to be in the ‘advanced stages’ of a plot to force Mrs May from office and herald a long Brexit extension as an interim leader who could build a cross-party Brexit deal.
But as news of the plan leaked, it sparked a furious Cabinet backlash that saw Michael Gove emerge as a ‘consensus’ candidate who could bring the crucial backing of both Remainers and Brexiteers.
Cabinet sources have told The Mail on Sunday that Mr Lidington was initially ‘reluctant’ to step into the role of ‘caretaker’ but was told it would be a ‘four-month job with a three-pronged mandate: to negotiate a long extension, to oversee testing of what Parliament wants and to ensure a fair Tory leadership contest.’
A source said: ‘David is 60. It would be his last job in politics and what a way to go out. The key players are on board. It’s just a matter of when.’
The Mail on Sunday has learnt that Cabinet big beasts including Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt have urged Mr Lidington to ‘knock on the door and call time’ on Mrs May’s premiership.
The Mail on Sunday has learnt that Cabinet big beasts including Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt have urged Mr Lidington to ‘knock on the door and call time’ on Mrs May’s premiership
In the febrile atmosphere in Westminster, there were even claims Michael Gove had initially supported Mr Lidington acting as caretaker, with one source claiming the plot was ‘far less factional than Brexit lines’.
However, as word of Mr Lidington’s manoeuvrings ripped through Westminster on Friday evening, Brexiteer Ministers were quick to brand the Cabinet politicking a ‘Remainer coup’, with former Vote Leave boss Mr Gove touted by Ministers and MPs for the job instead.
One senior Cabinet Minister told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The British 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.
‘If we do not deliver Brexit, we are so unbelievably f*****, 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 her deal, or no deal. We cannot be allowed to drift into the worst position and that is what David Lidington is manoeuvring us to – there is no upside to it.’
And another Cabinet Minister branded the plot ‘a f****** coup.’
…And if he gets into No 10, will old foe Boris ever get him out?
Bookies last night slashed Michael Gove’s odds of being the next Prime Minister.
The Environment Secretary is now 5/1 joint favourite with his rival Boris Johnson to take the Tory crown.
Should Mr Gove secure the keys to No 10, it would be a remarkable turnaround after he stabbed Mr Johnson in the back during in the 2016 Tory leadership battle, when he withdrew his support for his fellow Brexit campaigner at the last minute so he could stand himself.
Bitter rivals: Michael Gove and Boris Johnson pull pints of beer at the Old Chapel pub in Darwen in Lancashire, as part of the Vote Leave EU referendum campaign
Having initially been sacked by the victorious Theresa May, Mr Gove was subsequently brought back into the Cabinet fold and has spent the last year being studiously loyal to the Prime Minister in public, as he sought to repair his reputation among the Tory grassroots. Although Mr Gove was touted as a ‘consensus caretaker’ last night, Mr Johnson will be wary of letting his nemesis become Tory leader without a fight.
Last night, a Ladbrokes spokesman said: ‘Money for Michael Gove in the past few days has left the firm with no choice but to cut his odds of becoming the next PM. Mr Gove continues to attract punters’ cash.’
Outside of the Cabinet, one Minister furiously rejected Mr Lidington stepping in, saying: ‘You might as well put the permanent secretaries in charge.’
They added: ‘This is a pipe dream for the bland brigade, who must be deluded if they think replacing uncertainty with more uncertainty is going to fix anything.’
The backlash also broke on to the airwaves and social media, as Tory MPs began openly discussing Mrs May standing down.
After it emerged Mr Lidington had discussed soft-Brexit plans with Labour MPs, Tory Brexiteer Michael Fabricant compared his pro-EU stance to that of Britain’s appeasing of Hitler in the 1930s.
The outspoken backbencher hit out: ‘With the PM acting like Chamberlain, we now have David Lidington freelancing and acting like Lord Halifax hoping to come to an accommodation with Labour. Enough is enough!’ Asked if the PM would still be in post by next month, fellow Tory Marcus Fysh told BBC2’s Newsnight: ‘I don’t know.’
‘We are starting to get to the stage where it really would have been good to have better negotiations going on,’ he added. And fellow Leaver James Duddridge, tweeted ‘#Resign’.
Tory peer Lord Gadhia said: ‘She may not survive to the end of the week.’ He added: ‘It is quite possible that she herself may decide “actually, look, I am an obstacle to a resolution of this process”. So we may have a very dramatic week.’
Leadership speculation is gripping all corners of the parliamentary Conservative party, with other Ministers privately accepting that a General Election under a new leader would be needed to achieve a fresh mandate from the public ahead of Round Two of EU negotiations over a trade deal.
And Brexiteer hardliners in the European Research Group are determined not to repeat their disastrous implosion during the 2016 leadership battle which allowed Mrs May, who had campaigned to Remain, to come through the divided Brexiteers.
Senior MPs in the ERG plan to hold their own leadership contest to unite around one candidate. They point out a Brexiteer only needs to come second, with 105 MPs behind them, to proceed to the final round – a vote of the overwhelmingly Eurosceptic party membership.
Last night a source close to Mr Lidington said the claims from his Cabinet colleagues were ‘nonsense’, adding: ‘David has not discussed anything of the sort. His focus is on getting the PM’s deal agreed’.