Theresa May is in a desperate battle for her political life today after Boris Johnson dramatically quit over her ‘third way’ Brexit plan.
The Foreign Secretary resigned just 30 minutes before the PM is due to run the gauntlet in the Commons in a statement to MPs about the compromise package she forced through the Cabinet on Friday night.
Mrs. May must then endure the pressure cooker of a private meeting with Tory backbenchers amid a massive backlash from Eurosceptics that is threatening to sweep her out of Downing Street.
But the premier’s grip on Downing Street is hanging by a thread after Mr Johnson delivered his bombshell news after hours of speculation about his intentions. Mrs May’s allies will fear a bid to oust her will come almost immediately.
A No10 spokesman said: ‘This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. His replacement will be announced shortly. The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work.’
Senior Tory Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg said the departure was more ‘proof that Chequers is not Brexit’. But in a sign of the tensions threatening to rip the party to pieces, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the PM was ‘correct to accept the Foreign Secretary’s resignation’.
The PM’s position has been looking increasingly perilous as MPs vent their rage about the blueprint signed off by ministers at Chequers.
After a weekend apparently seething about the outcome, David Davis resigned late last night and delivered an excoriating verdict on the plans.
He complained that Mrs May had undermined him by ignoring his views on a ‘significant number of occasions’ and put the UK on track to be humbled by Brussels.
Mrs May tried to shore up her Cabinet this morning by drafting in Dominic Raab to replace Mr Davis.
But the Tory wrath has been inflamed further after it emerged that Mrs May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell is briefing Opposition MPs in a bid to win them over to her ‘third way’ proposals for future trade with the EU.
Brexiteers warned that the premier will not survive if she has to rely on ‘socialist’ votes to get the measures through the Commons.
Mr Johnson had gone underground today, despite reportedly having branded the blueprint a ‘t***’ during the marathon Cabinet session.
He surfaced to resign after contradictory claims over whether he was attending the Cobra emergency meeting on the Amesbury nerve agent poisonings.
Allies of Mrs May fear a vote of confidence is now more likely to happen than not – with 48 letters to the ruling 1922 committee needed to trigger one.
In a resignation announced just before midnight, Mr Davis told the PM that her policies would leave the UK in a ‘weak and inescapable’ negotiating position with just eight months until Britain cuts ties with Brussels.
‘As you know there have been a significant number of occasions in the last year or so on which I have disagreed with the Number 10 policy line, ranging from accepting the Commission’s sequencing of negotiations through to the language on Northern Ireland in the December Joint Report,’ he said.
‘At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.
‘I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely.’
Mrs May responded by saying: ‘I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at Cabinet on Friday.’
Having spoken to his wife and spent a day at the Silverstone grand prix over the weekend, Mr Davis is said to have become convinced he was ‘selling out his own country’ by staying in post. He is thought to have been offered another job in Cabinet in a desperate bid to stop him resigning, but turned it down.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Davis said his ‘conscience’ would not allow him to continue as he did not ‘believe’ in the plan. He insisted he had been ‘clear’ at the Chequers showdown that he did not back the blueprint and the EU would just take advantage.
‘They’ll take what we offer already and then demand some more. That’s what I fear,’ he said.
How could Theresa May be ousted as Tory leader?
Theresa May faces a mortal threat to her leadership of the Conservative Party and Government today.
A Tory leadership contest can be called in one of two ways – if Mrs May resigns or if MPs force and win a vote of no confidence in her.
Calling votes of no confidence is the responsibility of the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which includes all backbench Tory MPs.
Chairman Graham Brady is obliged to call a vote if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to him calling for one – currently 48 MPs.
The process is secret and only Mr Brady knows how many letters he has received.
The procedure was last used in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith was ousted as Tory leader.
If Mrs. May is ousted, any MP is eligible to stand.
Conservative MPs will then hold a series of ballots to whittle the list of contenders down to two, with the last place candidate dropping out in each round.
The final two candidates are then offered to the Tory membership at large for an election.
‘We’re giving too much away, too easily, and that to me is a very dangerous strategy.’
The appointment of Mr Raab, seen as a ‘true believer’ in Brexit, was designed to calm nerves on the Tory benches somewhat. A Leave campaigner in the referendum, he has been promoted from housing minister.
Mr Davis was praised by Tory MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Andrew Bridgen, who have pledged to sink the PM’s proposals when they face a Commons vote. Angry MPs accused Mrs. May of peddling a ‘stinker’ of a deal, with some publicly jibing that her leadership is ‘over’.
Eurosceptic MPs had warned Mr Johnson he will blow his chance of ever becoming Tory leader if he does not come out against Mrs May’s Brexit plan.
Backbencher Andrea Jenkyns said she hoped more ministerial resignations would follow. ‘The time has come that we need a Brexiteer prime minister, someone who believes in Brexit,’ she said.
‘Theresa May’s premiership is over.’
But Mr. Davis stopped short today of urging Mr Johnson to follow him out of the door, and said he hoped Mrs May would not be forced from power.
‘It’s not for me to make other people’s decisions. These decisions are very very hard to make,’ he said.
Asked if Mrs May could survive, he replied: ‘Oh yes, of course.’
Senior Conservative Bernard Jenkin said Mr Davis had been left in a ‘completely impossible’ position.
Asked if Brexiteers needed to put the PM’s future to a vote of the Conservative party, he replied ‘it may well come that’.
He told Today: ‘If the Prime Minister thinks she has consent and support from every member of her Cabinet she is deluding herself, as we have just seen.’
Mr Davis’s deputy Steve Baker also quit the Brexit department last night while fellow junior minister Suella Braverman is expected to follow him out of the door.
In his resignation letter released today, Mr Baker significantly admitted that ‘Parliamentary opinion and arithmetic constrain the government’s freedom of action’.
‘But I cannot support this policy with the sincerity and resolve which will be necessary,’ he added.
He urged Eurosceptics not to submit letters calling for a Conservative leadership contest.
‘What we need is a change of policy, not a change of PM,’ he said.
Mr Baker said he had almost been prompted to quit by ‘childish’ aggressive briefing from No10 on Friday that ministers who quit would be forced to get taxis home from Chequers.
He said: ‘Personally, I hope that doesn’t happen because right now we are in an extremely delicate and difficult situation for our country and I think the only sensible thing is to recognise that in these kinds of situations, difficult choices have to be made.
‘The one thing that will damage our country the most is if we don’t get behind our Prime Minister.’
Mr Hunt warned it was the ‘now or never moment for Brexit and we have to get behind the PM’.
He also took a swipe at Mr Johnson over his ambiguous stance towards the Brexit plan.
‘It is possible sometimes for politicians to say two things that appear mildly contradictory and of all people Boris does sometimes do that,’ he said.
In a sign that the government fears there will not be enough Conservative and DUP MPs ready to vote for Mrs May’s plan, Mr Barwell invited Opposition backbenchers to a briefing on what was being suggested.
But one senior Labour MP told MailOnline: ‘She will have to offer us a lot more than the Chequers to get many Labour MPs on board.’
Mr Rees-Mogg, who heads the ERG group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said he would vote against the Chequers plan if it came to Parliament.
‘The Conservative Party is very strongly in favour of Brexit. The leaders, I’m afraid, have been bitten by the establishment bug and are nervous of leaving,’ he said.
‘That’s a problem for the party. The antidote is that the leadership should carry out the result of the referendum and that would keep the party together.
‘Friday’s announcement was turning red lines into a white flag and David Davis has made that so clear in his resignation letter.’
Mr Rees-Mogg said he has not submitted a letter of no confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, and did not know whether other MPs have done so.
Asked whether Mrs May could survive as leader until the date of Brexit in May 2019, the North East Somerset MP told LBC: ‘Who knows when she will decide she has had enough of this?
‘I think the odds are that she will be Prime Minister in March next year.’
He added: ‘I think if the Government wants to get Chequers through, it will do so on the back of Labour votes, which would be a great mistake.’
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage urged Mr Johnson to be a ‘hero’. ‘Boris Johnson now has the chance to save Brexit, he will be a hero if he walks away from the betrayal of voters’ trust,’ he tweeted.
The Davis-led Brexit rebellion risks throwing negotiations into chaos and leaves Mrs May in a perilous position as she faces the House of Commons and then a potentially stormy meeting of Tory MPs tonight.
EU commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the resignation of Mr Davis would not hit the talks. Asked if it was a problem, he replied: ‘Not for us. We are here to work.’
Sources claimed the change would make ‘no difference’ as Mrs May’s Brexit envoy Olly Robbins had been in de facto charge of the talks for months.
The PM’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell is briefing Labour and Lib Dem MPs today as the government looks beyond the Tory benches for support
Tory MP Peter Bone was among those endorsing Mr Davis’s decision to quit. Nigel Farage urged Mr Johnson to be a ‘hero’ and follow him out of the exit door
The Prime Minister secured Cabinet backing for her strategy in a marathon meeting at Chequers on Friday and was set to urge the Conservative Party to ‘stand united’ behind her in a showdown meeting with backbenchers tonight.
But Eurosceptics plotting against the Prime Minister earlier claimed MPs have begun sending no-confidence letters, which will trigger a leadership contest if 48 are received.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said last night that the PM ‘has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit.’ If Mrs May resigns the opposition will have a fighting chance of winning a subsequent general election and taking charge of Brexit negotiations.
He said: ‘With her Government in chaos, if she clings on, it’s clear she’s more interested in hanging on for her own sake than serving the people of our country.’
In his resignation letter Mr Davis, describing himself as a ‘reluctant conscript’ to the PM’s proposals, told Mrs May ‘the current trend of policy and tactics’ is making it ‘look less and less likely’ that the UK will leave the customs union and single market.
He said: ‘At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.
‘I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactic is making that look like and less likely.
‘The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real.
‘I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions.’
David Davis’s resignation letter to Theresa May in full as Brexit secretary rocks the government by quitting
‘Dear Prime Minister
‘As you know there have been a significant number of occasions in the last year or so on which I have disagreed with the Number 10 policy line, ranging from accepting the Commission’s sequencing of negotiations through to the language on Northern Ireland in the December Joint Report. At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.
‘I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely. Whether it is the progressive dilution of what I thought was a firm Chequers agreement in February on right to diverge, or the unnecessary delays of the start of the White Paper, or the presentation of a backstop proposal that omitted the strict conditions that I requested and believed that we had agreed, the general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.
‘The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, the ‘common rule book’ policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.
‘I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions. Of course this is a complex area of judgement and it is possible that you are right and I am wrong. However, even in that event it seems to me that the national interest requires a Secretary of State in my Department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript. While I have been grateful to you for the opportunity to serve, it is with great regret that I tender my resignation from the Cabinet with immediate effect.