And Graham Brady has also hinted not all those claiming to have sent letters of no confidence to him had done so, suggesting in the past MPs had lied about having done so – while suggesting Mrs May would win a leadership contest in any case. Mrs May is under pressure after the publication of the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday and the consequent resignation of Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions minister Esther McVey. Party rules dictate that a contest must be held if the committee chairman receives letters from 15 percent of the total number of 317 Tory MPs in the House of Commons.
Speculation about the number of letters received by Sir Graham has been feverish in recent days, with 24 MPs publicly confirming they had written to him, and another 15 thought to have done so more discretely.
So far, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker, Sheryll Murray, Anne-Marie Morris, Lee Rowley, Henry Smith, Simon Clarke, Peter Bone, James Duddridge, Philip Davies, Andrea Jenkyns, Andrew Bridgen, Nadine Dorries, Laurence Robertson, Martin Vickers, Ben Bradley, Adam Holloway, John Whittingdale, Maria Caulfield, Mark Francois, David Jones, Marcus Fysh, Chris Green and Zac Goldsmith have all gone public.
Speaking on the North West edition of the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, he confirmed the threshold had not yet been reached.
He said: “It would be very likely that the Prime Minister would win such a vote and if she did then there would be a 12-month period where this could not happen again, which would be a huge relief for me because people would have to stop asking me questions about numbers of letters for at least 12 months.”
Mr Brady also denied suggestions that he was sitting on the letters and waiting to hold a vote, describing the idea as “slightly offensive”.
He added: “If a threshold were to be reached I would have to consult with the leader of the party, the Prime Minister.”
Pressed on if this would have to happen immediately, he added: “The whole thing is written with the intention that it should be an expeditious process.
“I think one of the crazy things which has taken hold over the last few weeks is that people in the media and elsewhere suggesting this is something that would go on for weeks.
“If it were to happen it ought to be a test of opinion very quickly in order to clear the air and get it out the way quickly.”
ir Graham said he had “no intention” of writing a letter himself, explaining it was not the time for the Party and Government to be “plunged into uncertainty” – although he also voiced reservations about Mrs May’s Brexit divorce deal, saying he was “not happy” about the backstop plans which he feared would leave Britain trapped in the EU customs union.
He also said it was unlikely the current proposals would get through the House of Commons.
Quizzed once more about how many letters he had received, he said: “I can’t tell you how many times I get asked that question every day.
“I get asked it in the supermarket, I get asked it walking in the street.”
He stressed he was bound by Party rules to keep the identities of all those who had written to him confidential – while adding: “It is up to them if they want to say they have done it.”
Mr Brady also sounded a note of caution about taking the claims of MPs to have written letters at face value – although he did not explicit state any of them were being untruthful in the latest instance.
He explained: “Some years ago I had the experience of someone claiming publicly to have written a letter which they hadn’t, and them then saying they had withdrawn a letter which they have sent.
“This is not a new phenomenon.”
Michael Spicer, his predecessor as chairman, had also spoken about how some Tory MPs had similarly hoodwinked the press.