Speaking outside Number 10, the Prime Minister took a defiant stance and insisted changing Conservative leader would “put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it” and could lead to Brexit being delayed or prevented. She warned the only people to benefit from the challenge would be Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
After pledging to fight on Mrs May said: “A change of leadership in the Conservative party now would put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it.
“A new leader wouldn’t be in place by 21 January legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament.
“The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through parliament by 29 March, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it.
“And a leadership election would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation, or the parliamentary arithmetic.
“Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just as we should be standing together to serve our country.
“None of that would be in the national interest. The only people whose interests would be served would be Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.”
If she loses tonight I think whoever is Prime Minister will have to delay Article 50
Mrs May will address Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee at 5pm this evening, immediately before voting begins. A source said she would also be speaking to individual Tory MPs during the day.
The drama began to unfold in Westminster when Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 committee of backbenchers, issued a statement confirming he had received 48 letters call for a vote of confidence in Mrs May’s leadership.
Former cabinet minister Owen Paterson was the latest MP to declare he had submitted a letter to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee.
The required amount of letters was reached as MPs acted with anger and disbelief at the way Mrs May postponed the crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal after admitting she was heading for a heavy defeat.
Theresa May took a defiant stance after the announcement of a vote of confidence in her leadership
Sir Graham said: “The threshold of 15 percent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party has been exceeded.
“In accordance with the rules, a ballot will be held between 1800 and 2000 on Wednesday 12th December in committee room 14 of the House of Commons.
“The votes will be counted immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made a soon as possible in the evening. Arrangements for the announcement will be released later today.”
Within minutes of Sir Graham’s announcement, some of the ministers widely touted as potential successors to Mrs May issued statements of loyalty to the Prime Minister.
Sir Graham Brady’s 1922 Committee announcement
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “I am backing @theresa_may tonight. Being PM most difficult job imaginable right now and the last thing the country needs is a damaging and long leadership contest.
“Brexit was never going to be easy but she is the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU on March 29.”
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire tweeted: “Strongly support @theresa_may to continue as Leader of @Conservatives and Prime Minister.
“Now is not the time for this distraction and even more uncertainty. We need to get behind the Prime Minister in the best interests of our country.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong.
“PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond was another Cabinet minister to come out in support of Mrs May, tweeting: “The Prime Minister has worked hard in the national interest since the day she took office and will have my full support in the vote tonight. Her deal means we leave the EU on time, whist protecting our jobs and our businesses.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke said he was “disappointed” that the letters have gone in, but added: “I hope that the Prime Minister will win tonight and win well. If she loses tonight I think whoever is Prime Minister will have to delay Article 50.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “I’m voting for the Prime Minister tonight and urge all colleagues to do the same. We should all be focussed on coming together for the sake of the future of the country.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd tweeted: “The PM has my full support. At this critical time we need to support and work with the PM to deliver on leaving the EU, & our domestic agenda – ambitious for improvements to people’s lives & to build on growth of wages & jobs.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove tweeted: “I am backing the Prime Minister 100% – and I urge every Conservative MP to do the same.
“She is battling hard for our country and no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU.”
Michael Gove said he was backing Theresa May “100 percent”
Theresa May visited Jean-Claude Juncker in a bid to salvage her Brexit deal
And International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, tipped as a possible contender for the leadership, posted: “The Prime Minister has my full support, not least because she has always done what she firmly believes is in the national interest.
“Our country needs us all to fight for a good deal and prepare for a no deal senario. All eyes and hands should be on that task.”
Tory former minister Ed Vaizey said he would support the Prime Minister in the vote, but Sir Bernard Jenkin told Today he would vote for a change in leadership.
Sir Bernard said he had submitted a letter of no confidence earlier this week with “great regret”.
Transport Secretary and prominent Brexiteer Chris Grayling said: “I will be backing Theresa May tonight. At this crucial point, the last thing the country needs is a prolonged and introspective leadership contest.
“I was one of the first Cabinet ministers to back Brexit. Delivering a deal was never going to be simple.
“Theresa May is the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU and deliver on the Brexit that I and the people of our great country voted for.”
In a joint statement the chairman of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg and his deputy Steve Baker said: “Theresa May’s plan would bring down the Government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it.
“Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go.”
Theresa May has vowed to fight o
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted: “It was Andrew Adonis who said that ‘Brexit is a revolution that devours its children. It has consumed three prime ministers – Thatcher, Major and Cameron.’
“Now it looks like Theresa May is the fourth. The country has no leader at a critical moment In our history.”
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Vince Cable tweeted: “The self-indulgent Tory Party leadership challenge is about more than choice of leader.
“Political logic demands a split into a @UKIP style populist anti-EU party and another of the sensible centrists working with others. Stop #BrexitChaos #PeoplesVoteNow.”
Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier hold talks in Brussels
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter: “Today is a stark reminder that the UK is facing chaos and crisis entirely because of a vicious civil war within the Tory party.
“What a self-centred bunch they are. They all need to go, not just the PM.”
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, said she was not surprised Mrs May was facing a no confidence vote.
She said: “I can’t say I’m surprised because being here in Westminster yesterday I did realise there were a lot of conversations going on.
“However my focus of course has to continue to be on the withdrawal agreement and the fact that the backstop needs to be taken out of that withdrawal agreement.”
European Council President Donald Tusk has tweeted a photo of a meeting in Brussels under the caption: “Meeting with @MichelBarnier ahead of tomorrow’s discussion of #Brexit. #EUCO.”
Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 EU referendum but resigned when voters chose Brexit, tweeted: “I hope Conservative MPs will back the PM in the vote today. We need no distractions from seeking the best outcome with our neighbours, friends and partners in the EU.”