Theresa May battles on as her power drains away

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Theresa May struck a defiant tone after being hit by a wave of ministerial resignations and calls for her to be ousted as Prime Minister in a backlash over her Brexit plan.

Theresa May has pledged to “see this through” as Brexiteers fired the starting gun on a bid to oust her from Downing Street.

British Prime Minister Theresa May battled against a rebellion over her draft Brexit deal on Thursday, as ministers resigned and members of her own party plotted to oust her. (Photo by Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP)MATT DUNHAM/AFP/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Theresa May battled against a rebellion over her draft Brexit deal on Thursday, as ministers resigned and members of her own party plotted to oust her. (Photo by Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP)MATT DUNHAM/AFP/Getty Images

On a dramatic day that saw members of her cabinet and MPs tell the Prime Minister they would not support her Brexit deal, Mrs May insisted she would press ahead.

Two Cabinet ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and two junior ministers resigned yesterday, claiming the draft withdrawal deal agreed in Brussels was a betrayal of the EU referendum vote and risked damaging the Union.

Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg signalled the start of an organised attempt to depose Mrs May, submitting a letter of no confidence in her leadership and calling on fellow Tories to do the same.

The Prime Minister could be ousted “not in months, but weeks”, Mr Rees-Mogg said. Half a dozen other MPs publicly confirmed they had also called for a vote of no confidence in Mrs May’s leadership.

In his resignation letter, Mr Raab said Mrs May’s draft ‘divorce’ deal from the EU was a “very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom”.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Raab said he could not accept “an indefinite backstop arrangement” for the Irish border, included in the withdrawal agreement.

He said: “No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.”

He was joined in resigning by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara and Brexit minister Suella Braverman.

Two more Tories quit jobs as parliamentary private secretaries or deputy chairs of the Conservative Party.

Last night it appeared Downing Street had averted the possible resignation of international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, but environment secretary Michael Gove left a meeting at Number 10 without making a statement, adding to fears he was on the brink of quitting.

Reports suggest he was offered Mr Raab’s job as Brexit Secretary, but demanded Mrs May’s draft deal be torn up and renegotiated as a condition of staying in the Cabinet.

The pound lost nearly 2 per cent of its value against the euro, while shares in banks and house builders were also hit hard in the markets. The Royal Bank of Scotland fell by 9.5 per cent, wiping £2.84 billion off its value.

During three hours of questioning in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister faced Tory backbench accusations the Brexit deal agreed by Cabinet on Wednesday was “dead on arrival” and would never survive the parliamentary vote expected next month.

Only a handful of her own MPs spoke up in favour of the plan, denounced by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a “half-baked deal”.

“I plead with you to accept the political reality of the situation you now face,” Mrs May was told by Tory MP Mark Francois.

But in a defiant press conference at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister insisted she would “see this through”.

She compared herself to her tenacious cricketing hero, telling reporters: “What do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”

Read more: Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigns over withdrawal deal
Mrs May said: “I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people.”

She added: “Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones.

“As PM my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, that does that by ending free movement ... ensuring we are not sending vast annual sums to the EU any longer, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but also protects jobs and protects people’s livelihoods, protects our security, protects the union of the United Kingdom.

“I believe this is a deal which does deliver that, which is in the national interest and am I going to see this through? Yes.”

But the wave of opposition to Mrs May’s proposed Brexit deal leaves her leadership hanging in the balance and suggests its passage through parliament could be impossible.

Launching a leadership coup with a press conference outside Westminster, Mr Rees-Mogg declared her deal “has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister”.

“This is nothing to do with the ambition of Brexiteers,” he said. “It is everything to do with the ambition of Brexit for this country.”

His move is expected to be matched by other ERG members, raising expectations the tally of letters to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, may soon pass the threshold of 48 to trigger a confidence vote.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said it had been an “excruciating” day for the Prime Minister that showed her authority had disappeared.

“Her statement this evening was a chance to put better options back on the table that could command a Commons majority – such as continued single market membership for Scotland and the rest of the UK,” he said.

“But it’s increasingly clear that the Prime Minister is determined to subject Scotland to the immense damage to jobs and living standards, all because of a bitter Tory civil war.”

Labour said the government was “falling apart before our eyes”, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Mrs May “appears to be in denial”.

The developments threaten to derail the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy ahead of a crucial EU summit, which European Council president Donald Tusk confirmed would take place on 25 November “if nothing extraordinary happens”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear there was little appetite in Brussels to reopen the draft agreement, saying there was “no question” of returning to the text that was “on the table”.

However, Mr Tusk boosted the hopes of campaigners for a second EU referendum by suggesting Brussels could cancel Brexit, saying the EU was “best prepared” for a “no-Brexit scenario”.

A YouGov poll conducted yesterday after the Prime Minister’s deal with Brussels was unveiled found twice as many people oppose the agreement as support it, by 42 per cent to 19 per cent.

The survey of 3,154 people found Leave and Remain supporters had similar views on it, with 42 per cent of Brexit supporters against it, along with 47 per cent of pro-EU voters, with 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively in favour of it.

More than four in ten people (44 per cent) believe the Prime Minister and her team could have got a better deal out of Brussels. Less than one in five (19 per cent) say they thought this was the best agreement possible. A separate poll suggested almost half of voters now back a second Brexit referendum.

Read more: Brexit fallout recap: Theresa May faces turmoil as Ministers resign