Plotters don’t have enough support yet, defiant Theresa May says

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Brexiteers have yet to assemble the 48 letters of no confidence needed to trigger the process to oust Theresa May as Conservative Party leader, the Prime Minister has said.

Mrs May told Sky’s Ridge On Sunday that the threshold for letters of no confidence needed to start a leadership battle had yet to be reached, and was backed up by the man who oversees the process, 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

PM Theresa May  (Photo by Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

PM Theresa May (Photo by Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

In a message to those plotting her downfall, including members of the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic MPs, Mrs May said she had not considered quitting.

With MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg openly calling for a vote of no confidence in her leadership, Mrs May warned plotters that they risked opening the door a no-deal scenario or a fresh EU referendum that cancels Brexit.

Read more: Theresa May defies Brexit ‘Gang of Five’ over Irish backstop

“A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier and it isn’t going to change the parliamentary arithmetic,” the Prime Minister said.

“What it will do is bring in a degree of uncertainty. That is uncertainty for people and their jobs.

“What it will do is mean that it is a risk that we delay the negotiations and that is a risk that Brexit gets delayed or frustrated.”

Asked if she had considered stepping down, Mrs May said: “No I haven’t.

“Of course it has been a tough week, actually these negotiations have been tough right from the start, but they were always going to get even more difficult right toward the end when we are coming to that conclusion.”

The Prime Minister added: “Who are we here for? The important thing is that we’re here for our constituents and as prime minister I’m here for the people of this country.”

Mr Brady said that if the 48-letter threshold was reached, he would “inform and consult the leader of party” and “organise a ballot as soon as is reasonably practical”.

The chairman of the powerful backbench committee told the BBC’s Pienaar’s Politics programe that not even his wife knows how many letters he has received from other Conservative MPs.

“Victoria does not know, nor do the two vice chairman of the 1922 Committee or the other officers,” he said.

The senior backbencher also revealed he was not totally happy with Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement.

Asked about the deal’s lack of a unilateral exit route from the backstop, Sir Graham said: “I’m not happy about it.

“We’ve got the draft withdrawal agreement, there might be some tweaks to that and I hope there will be.”

Dominic Raab, the former Brexit Secretary whose resignation last week triggered the current crisis, said he was opposed to any attempt to oust the Prime Minister.

“It’s a total distraction from what we need to do, we need to get Brexit over the line, we need to support our Prime Minister,” Mr Raab said.

“I have got huge respect for her, I wrote that in my resignation letter, it is not flim-flam.

“I have worked very closely with her on Brexit and I think there is still the opportunity to get this right, support the Prime Minister - but she must also listen and change course on Brexit.”

Another ex-cabinet minister and close ally of Mrs May, the former first secretary of state Damian Green, said a leadership change would be “absurd”.

Mr Green told the BBC: “If you step back, we are at the absolute crunch point of the most important negotiations this country has had for decades.

“I think saying that what the country now needs - let alone the Conservative Party, look at it on a national basis - to say that what the country now needs is a leadership election and a change of leadership, is absurd. From the country’s point of view, I think that’s exactly the wrong way to go.”

Read more: Euan McColm: Tory Brexit zealots out of touch with reality